Chief flexibility officer: The next CIO role?

Chief flexibility officer: The next CIO role?

The world is changing so quickly, and every company's business model has to change as well, says V.C. Gopalratnam, vice president, IT at Cisco. 'You really have to build an organisation that is as flexible as hell.'

In three to five years, the CIO title will change into CFO. Not as head of finance, but “chief flexibility officer”, says V.C. Gopalratnam, vice president, IT at Cisco.

“I use the term chief flexibility officer because of the dynamic nature of what is happening out there,” says Gopalratnam. “The world is changing so quickly, the markets are changing, the customers are changing.”

“Every company’s business model has to change as well,” he says. “You really have to build an organisation that is as flexible as hell.”

Watch: V.C. Gopalratnam of Cisco on 'The CIO as CFO - chief flexibility officer'.

He says “technology typically lasts anywhere from 12 to 18 months” these days where it used to last five years. “If you are introducing new technology, you better work in those 12 to 18 months. Otherwise you lose your competitive advantage.”

For CIOs rolling out technology enabled services, “your window of opportunity is also fairly limited and therefore you need to have the ability to constantly reinvent yourself.”

This reinvention, he says, covers not only technology but also business processes and staffing.

“It essentially requires the CIO to be nimble, adapt quickly to changes, understand the financial and cost implications of these actions. They have to be savvy, understand how technology can be used as a competitive advantage. This requires you to build teams around you that are flexible, can multitask and adjust to these changes.”

“You have to hire athletes,” he says. “People who are agile and nimble think on their feet can adapt to different technologies and help you reduce that time to market.”

The success of any technology programmes depends on adoption. “Surround yourself with change managers,” he advises. “Find out what is on the minds of stakeholders and use those people as vehicles for getting the information out.”

Even in a philosophy like BYOD (bring your own device) is not a technology change, he says. “It is more of a cultural change that requires more change management than technology management.”

As the global economic downturn continues to impact different parts of the world (“a slow recovery after a steep fall”), business and technology professionals are likewise placed in difficult situations.

“The expectation is we could continue to do more and more, he says. “The world is not necessarily slowing down, everything is moving faster and faster -network speed, utilisation of networks, getting connected to the internet, [growth of] mobile data traffic.”

He asks, “Will the CIO be chief ideas officer, chief intelligence officer and chief innovation officer?”

The answer to this, he says, is “All of them.”

“If you don’t do all of those you will become chief irrelevant officer,” says Gopalratnam.

Broaden your influence

Gopalratnam suggests CIOs take a multi-pronged approach to gain a seat at the executive table.

The “healthy dose of foundation skills” starts with “an eye on your career goals”, says Gopalratnam.

“Make sure as a technology professional you are completely aligned to business goals and goals customers set for your organisation,” he says.

Otherwise, “You will end up working on things not relevant to the boardroom and not get support from executive management.”

It is important to benchmark the services the ICT group delivers to those delivered across the cloud. If you are working in an area your organisation could get from the cloud or third party, there is no guarantee your organisation will use you, he says. “Make sure your services survive the test of time. If that service continues it had better be best in class. If you don’t benchmark, you become dispensable.”

He says the CIO has to balance productivity and growth. When times are hard the normal tendency is to kill innovation and focus on operational excellence. “When the market recovers those companies that are not innovative lose market share,” he says. “Do not starve the innovation engine.”

He also advises CIOs to invest time in picking up commercial skills like contract negotiation and TCO (total cost of ownership) analysis.

The end game is business relevance, he says. “Don’t let business relevance fall through the cracks,” he says. “If you help solve business problems through technology, you will get a seat at the table. Never lose sight of the fact you are helping influence business metrics, not technology metrics. Your service has to solve a business problem.”

“It is a multitasking kind of environment,” he says, and will require work.

“You don’t have luxury of time because everything that you do ultimately affects time to market and time to capability; and time to market and time to capability is a sustainable competitive advantage.

“Once you lose that, it is hard to get it back. That is why speed is important.”

Divina Paredes (@divinap) is editor of CIO New Zealand.

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