Unilever CIO Jane Moran said that building capability in her IT function and a having a high-performing set of platform leads was critical in moving to a new technology strategy which is now reaping dividends for the consumer goods manufacturer.
Moran had been speaking at the 2018 CIO Summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in The Shard in London, describing the cultural change that went alongside moving from a project-based to a platform-based approach. She also spoke about the leadership lessons of running a large technology function and operating at board level.
"I have some great talent internally," Moran told CIO UK Editor Edward Qualtrough. "The platform leads for Unilever, they are amazing. They are deep technologists. They care deeply about their platforms. They want to innovate on those platforms, and they can because they manage the development and operations, but more importantly the design.
"That was the unlock for us - not having third parties tell us what we should be doing and managing our systems as a black box. But it did require us to invest in our employees. We've got significant technology training going on at Unilever."
CIO the best job
A CIO for 17 years, Moran said now is the most exciting time to be working in the technology sector and outlined some of her leadership lessons from managing large teams in blue chip companies Unilever and Thomson Reuters. "I was thinking about retiring," she said. "Why would you want to retire right now? This is the most exciting time to be in technology. I think all of you guys have the best jobs."
Moran gave some advice for the CIOs in attendance, highlighting having great business partnering capabilities and giving a voice to some of the most junior people in an organisation.
"One of the biggest lessons I've learned is you need to partner with your business colleagues around the organisation," she said.
"You need to understand what business problems you're solving, and you need to get your teams to understand those business problems to help craft the solutions. The best ideas come from the most junior people in the organisation. You need to create the operating model so that everyone in your technology organisation has a voice."
Being on the board
A member of the board at JPMorgan Securities, Moran believes board experience, large or small, is a worthwhile experience for business technology executives.
"It's been fantastic," she said. "I'm on the other side of the table. I've always been presenting to a board as a CIO, and as a board member you're there to challenge. I think the real learning is to ask questions without wanting to solve the problem. What I'm learning from board experience is how to challenge my own team and ask the right questions so that they can go do and be more productive for themselves."
Moran was speaking to an audience of over 100 CIOs, CTOs and IT directors after News UK CTO Christina Scott had delivered a presentation about the media company's start-up innovation lab.
"I admire Christina because that's a lot of work," Moran said as she outlined Unilever's approach which involved tapping into the innovation expertise of the top technology companies with which the consumer goods manufacturer works.
"They have innovation teams doing nothing but scouting the world for start-ups, so I let them be the funnel for us," Moran said, adding that start-up accelerators and lab initiatives could be positive too. "It's a good thing to do; I think there are many positives if your organisation wants to do one of these start-up labs," Moran said. "It helps educate people in digital, and I think that's really valuable in itself."
Moran said at the 2018 CIO Summit that her current focus was on innovation and growth, but that such was the speed of digital business the days of making lengthy five-year plans were over. This fits in her platform-based approach, along with the agility and a DevOps capability Moran described to CIO UK earlier in 2018.