CIOs navigating the digital storm

Howard Elias, Dell EMC, addresses the CIO forum (Image: Chris Bellew)

24 October 2017

The pressures on today’s CIO have never been greater. Digital transformation, a rapidly changing business landscape, an accelerating pace of change and technological development, as well as a hostile security environment have all conspired to develop the perfect digital storm.

Into this maelstrom comes the changing role of the CIO. Now, the CIO must be a strategist for the business, becoming a co-pilot to the CEO, helping to inform business decisions through the data-driven intelligence.

The Dell EMC CIO Forum, with Intel and TechPro (Image: Chris Bellew)

In order to provide a forum to discuss these and other aspects of today’s CIO, TechPro, in association with Dell EMC and Intel, invited a select group of CIOs to a peer discussion to share their insights and experiences in the company of Howard Elias, president of Dell EMC Services and IT, who supports customers across the Client Solutions and Enterprise Solutions Groups, and is an author of the InFocus blog. The participants came from a wide range of industries, covering government and public sector, healthcare, legal, education, pharmaceuticals, agri-food, industrial, packaging and transport.

The discussion was moderated by Paul Hearns, editor of TechPro, and took place under Chatham House rules.

Hearns opened the discussion with a brief presentation of the evolving role of the CIO, as well as the current digital storm in which the CIO must work.

Hearns cited the Dell EMC EMEA CTO for converged platform solutions division (CPSD) Nigel Moulton’s work on the Connected CIO.

Moulton said, unequivocally, that transformation increases connectivity.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s digital transformation, IT, workforce or security transformation,” said Moulton, “Transformation brings us all closer. It connects the dots. This matters greatly in a world where the rules have changed.”

“The shift to digital is inevitable, but not all industries move at the same pace”

Hearns described how the current prevalence of digital technologies and platforms meant that new competition could come to market faster than ever before, becoming credible rivals for organisations.

Moulton again is certain as to the pace, but not the distribution.

“The shift to digital is inevitable, but not all industries move at the same pace,” he said. If you are engaged in banking or financial services, then whilst the core banking part of the business is very hard to disrupt, the higher margin value added services are relatively easy to disrupt. In some cases, it takes a good idea and a few lines of code to challenge an established brand or service.”

To give context for the wave of digital transformation, the participants were asked who regarded their organisation as having begun this journey, all hands went up. However, when asked who regarded their implementation of digital transformation, no hands were raised.

One CIO said their digital transformation started with core infrastructure, to ensure that it could support what was being planned later in terms of capabilities and services. This focus on core capabilities, said the CIO, was necessary to allow the organisation to build out from that base. However, illustrating the diversity of approaches, Dell EMC’s Elias mentioned an Asian bank of long standing that set up a separate entity to innovate in ebanking rather than try to tackle the culture of the old organisation first, and potentially lose momentum.

Elias went on to share his insights of working with multiple companies across various sectors, where he said the trends now were much more toward smaller teams, with narrow focus projects with a view to producing services and code that were re-usable where possible. The move was very much away from old style monolithic and towards the micro-service approach.

“Communicating the value of change to the individuals would foster a more receptive environment and promote acceptance of change”

There was broad agreement among the participants with this approach, though none had experienced a separate entity for digital innovation.

The participants agreed that there was broad awareness of the major terms for discussion, from digital transformation to the strategic CIO, but several expressed a view that there was varying levels of impact for the individuals and their respective organisations.

One participant, whose organisation was a division of a multinational, said that developments in digital transformation meant much more access to the vice president and CIO to engage and listen, than would previously have been the case. This more inclusive and receptive circumstance seemed to reflect the necessity for such transformational efforts to be as extensive and exclusive as possible, requiring collaboration to be deep and effective.

On the topic of collaboration, and touching on mobility in enterprise, the participants were asked about their perception of cases such as Yahoo and IBM who were reported in the media as reining in or restricting home and remote working. While views varied from outright disagreement to understanding but not necessarily support, Elias said that in his experience, the successful organisations were the ones which provided the facilities and flexibility for teams to find their own equilibrium to achieve better collaboration.

Paul Hearns, TechPro editor opened the discussion, and facilitated the debate. (Image: Chris Bellew)

The reaction to this was broad agreement, with one CIO relating that it was not until their mobility strategy, which had grown organically, was fully organised and integrated with the broader workforce enablement plans, that the full benefit of the resulting flexibility was realised. Broader efforts, they reported, to enable more agile processes saw benefits from mobility that were not explicitly planned. This, they reported, helped significantly in dealing with emerging, though not severe, shadow IT issues.

It was also pointed out by one participant that in larger organisations collaboration was vital to avoid duplication but also to better leverage resources. The example was given of one group having access to funding that could not be shared. So by working closely with other elements within the organisation it could dedicate those resources to an effort that only it could provide, ensuring that the work was not duplicated elsewhere, though always with a focus on producing something that can be reused and of benefit to the wider effort.

Communication was a constant theme underlying many of the discussions and communicating value became a central issue. All agreed that it was of vital importance in any change exercise to communicate the value of change to individuals. By communicating the value of changes to the individuals would foster a more receptive environment and promote acceptance of change.

A participant from the healthcare sector observed that it is very important to understand the nature and character of an organisation to judge how best to communicate change and get people onboard.

This emerged from a broad ranging discussion of the topical issue of the Public Services Card (PSC) in Ireland, and the furore around its attendant privacy issues. While Hearns pointed out that successful public services in other European countries, such as Estonia, relied heavily on such systems, there was agreement among the CIOs that the issue had been handled badly and so stood as an example of a failure to properly communicate the value of change.

“A greater ability to meet needs, provide guidance and support and help areas of the business achieve their respective goals meant that the CIOs were being viewed in a more positive light, from either side and below, as well as from the C Suite”

On the subject of technological development, one CIO observed that IT had moved far beyond the approach of simply digitising paper processes. The breadth and accelerating pace of change, they said, now meant that there was a far greater variety of tasks and processes that can be automated and analysed, bringing the benefits of metrics and insights to new areas. This new range of insights adds to the range of sources the CIO can use to analyse and derive intelligence, strengthening their position as a strategic resource to the CIO.

However, another CIO opined that this broader range of capabilities, through digitisation, had allowed them to change the nature of their conversations.

One CIO reported that they now found it possible to provide a more positive environment where they can say ‘yes’ more to requests, tackling shadow IT and providing broader services for how people want to do things. The resulting positive environment, they said, meant that business leaders within the organisation felt more enabled to initiate conversations with IT that led to actions and achievements.

The mood overall was positive as the CIOs agreed that while complexity in infrastructure and solutions was an issue, greater automation, orchestration and security capabilities meant that the tide was turning in their favour to be able to do more for the business.

This greater ability to meet needs, provide guidance and support and help areas of the business achieve their respective goals meant that the CIOs were being viewed in a more positive light, from either side and below, as well as from the C Suite.

Hearns had earlier cited Vala Afshar, the chief digital evangelist for Salesforce, who said that business units are now starting to act like technology start-ups. There was agreement among the CIOs this was not necessarily a bad thing, as they felt they now had a greater ability to meet those individual needs and ambitions.

The Enterprise Strategy Group Study by Dell EMC from April of this year polled more than a 1,000 organisations and found that only 5% globally were fully digitally transformed, though 71% agreed they would not be competitive without it.

The survey found that digitally mature organisations were seven times more likely to recognise IT as competitive differentiator and profit centre. The overwhelming majority (96%) of more mature organisations exceeded revenue targets last year and are more than twice as likely to meet revenue goals. These organisations are eight times more likely to report a highly cooperative relationship between IT and the business.

Moulton cited research from Harvey Nash and KPMG in 2016 which found that nearly two thirds (63%) of CEOs are concentrated on projects that make rather than save money. Into this the ‘hybrid CIO’, who is both technology-minded and business-savvy, will bring digital platforms that push the business forward, lead innovation and use emerging technologies to disrupt and reimagine IT, rather than to simply optimise existing business processes.

The forum discussion certainly reflected these trends, showing a familiarity not only with the challenges, but also the undeniable benefits of digital transformation and business value the process can bring to the organisation, ably championed by the Connected CIO.






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