It is hard to believe that it has been 12 months since the last CIO 100 was published [almost 13 actually, ed.], but here we are again and once more there is no question that the ground has shifted. That so much can change within the course of the year is testament to the increasing speed of change that we are all now experiencing. This year, instead of just reading my ramblings, I thought for the next couple of articles I would get a view from some of the CIOs who have ranked highly in the 100 previously. Where are they now and why? What do they think it takes to make the top 10 today and what advice would they give those hoping to be the tech leaders of tomorrow?
Of the three that I spoke to – Paul Cutter, Ian Cohen and Trevor Didcock – only one is still in an enterprise position, which is interesting in itself. The fact that the enterprise in question is Betfair also tells us a lot about the kinds of roles that good CIOs are now looking for:
"Part of the reason I moved to Betfair was because I was looking for a role where technology is an integral part of the business, not just a service that supports it," explained Cutter. "For someone like me that is important, and with so many digital businesses now arriving on the scene there is plenty of scope for CIOs/ CTOs to find those kinds of roles.
"In many more traditional organisations technology is still regarded as a service therefore making the CIO inherently subservient. This is frustrating because we are expected to view the business as our customer, rather than the customer themselves."
Both Ian Cohen and Trevor Didcock have moved out of the enterprise altogether. They both agreed that unless companies start to understand the value a CIO or CTO can bring, then they are in serious danger of losing the people that can actually protect them from the kind of disruption that we are seeing from companies such as Betfair, AirBnB and Uber. Add in Netflix, any others?
"Good CIOs need the oxygen of learning new things," said Cohen. "My previous organisation was actually very fast moving for its sector, but I think a lot of us feel that most traditional enterprises are still moving too slowly and brain drain is now a big threat for them. When they realise the extent of the threat posed by digital businesses they may find that they no longer have the talent in place to help them deal with it."
All three CIOs agreed that for those aiming for a role in technology leadership the idea that it is a purely technical role is a fallacy. Trevor Didcock believes balance is now critical:
"There is no question that a CIO needs a strong technical appreciation, but too much of a technical orientation is now dangerous I would argue, because it keeps you in the weeds and gives you too narrow a perspective. The critical skills you need are an ability to make change happen quickly, the ability to build and manage teams effectively and to create the right structures and relationships – both internally and externally."
Cohen agreed: "A good CIO is not a glorified IT director, they are a commercially savvy technologist sitting between the products and the business. This requires an amalgam of different skills, but key is the ability to see both from the inside out and from the outside in. Traditional CIOs look from the inside out – they view the world from an internal perspective. Good marketers do the opposite. They look at everything from a customer perspective. We now have to do both."
"I have heard a lot about two-speed IT recently and that is something that poses a threat to organisations moving forward and could also damage the role and reputation of the CIO," Didcock said. "The need to speed things up in areas like product development and customer experience means that the focus shifts to rapid, agile development up front, while the back office/infrastructure sits in the slow lane. This then creates a disconnect in which the products and front office apps are not fully supported and it won’t take much for that to begin to tell.
"It is vital that the CIO ensures front and back are stitched together because fundamentally they are the one who will be left holding the baby when marketing and product development move on to the next thing. This can create conflict because the business might want to move at a perhaps unsupportable speed but unless you are ready to stand firm ultimately it will be your price to pay when the technology fails."
The CIO role is a tough one and only likely to get tougher. Not only do you need to know tech but you have to know the business too, and you cannot be afraid of making enemies. What was interesting is that it is not the CIO that should be afraid of disruption. They should embrace it. The biggest risk is that businesses don’t see how critical CIOs are to their future and end up losing the very talent they need to secure it.