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Contemporary CIOs are able to speak a common language across the business

SAIDIn the run up to Easter I had the opportunity to attend a gathering of CIOs at Oxford at the SAID Business School, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of my appointment as Global VP IT and CIO by ICI plc back in 1993, which gave me a real opportunity to focus on the role and practice of the contemporary CIO.  I was also involved in judging a power list comprising of CIOs that I have been involved in since 2010. 

In judging the CIO power list year by year, the criteria for identifying the top 10 continually evolves – not surprising given the continual development in the capabilities of contemporary ICT that leading CIOs must now address. I wrote to my fellow judges a set of observations based on the 2018 submissions:

1. “Migration to the cloud is there, but now taken as a given. The real focus is on the spread of new capabilities that cloud compute has spawned  – including AI, Machine Learning and  IoT  – and how they can impact business operations, at times quite radically”;

2. “The contemporary CIO is often acting as a change agent on a much broader front than before; an example is the CIO of the civic administration of a major northern city whose formal role extends into the diversity of NHS management structures in the region”;   

3. “The smart CIO is sourcing in part through close partnerships with the new big boys (the AWS, Microsoft, Google gang), but also now deliberately seeking out the young focused start-ups to bring them into partnership where relevant. The UK is now a rich hunting ground for such young, innovative and focused ventures!“.

In combination, these new realities have the potential to shift enterprise productivity, agility and cost competitiveness in quite radical fashions. And sharply reshaping the CIO role in the process.

Over 50% of this year’s CIO power list report direct to the CEO. A significant shift since the time when the norm was to report to the CFO. A fellow former CIO judging the power list commented that ‘more than in previous years how broad the definition of the CIO roles has become’.   Something also raised in my February column, where I flagged the Horizon CIO Podcast recorded between Mark Chillingworth, Catherine Stagg-Macey and myself [ ‘Best time in years to be a CIO’ ].  The trigger for our discussion was an earlier column by Chillingworth reporting that ‘CIO role changes increased by 30% during 2017’.  

At the SAID CIO event I chaired the closing panel on the issue of CIO as business enabler. My fellow panellists, my three business enabling CIOs, included Tony Scott, CIO EMEIA of WSP, a global engineering professional services venture, Steve Buckland, IT Business Partner EMIA at AECOM the civil engineering business and James Freed, CIO at Health Education England.  Three professionals, each of whose career backgrounds are very different, and each of whose current responsibilities span very different types of business. But in our 40 minutes of debate clear common ground emerged; and it was common ground on the how of the contemporary CIO role rather than any of its techie dimensions.

In their roles as business enablers, colleagues of the CIOs on the panel are nowadays a lot more technologically literate than was the case five or more years ago. The ability now for management to speak a more common language, up to and including at board level, is a constructive development. A strong and shared business focus on those key tasks in hand that do have a technological dimension is more quickly achieved and reinforced.

Their business’ customer and clients are key allies nowadays – they help the CIO and her/his team keep a real awareness and understanding of the fast changes in their markets and the surrounding economy. A real working partnership along their supply chains (goods/services) keeps them alert to the endless changes in how business is now being done.

And they recognise the generation gap in their staff between the (older, more business experienced) baby boomers and the (younger, more social media- literate) millennials, and the need to work at it positively. We talked about mentoring and reverse mentoring. I told of the recent FT article on how Estee Lauder’s ageing marque had been revived by its chief executive’s deliberate reverse mentoring scheme’. And Generation Z makes its appearance – apparently with greater security smarts!

Widgets Magazine
About Richard Sykes 9 Articles
I am a businessman with over forty years' experience that spans the chemical & IT industries, and the world of visual & performing arts. I have held senior executive roles in a major global multinational, and non-executive chairmanships of smaller ventures & not-for-profits. I have lived & managed businesses internationally.
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