How do today's ICT leaders balance innovation projects with the need to keep core operational systems running?
Rapidly shifting technology is fundamentally changing the marketplace, ushering concurrent priorities, thus driving CIOs and their teams to develop and deploy new strategies to keep pace of change.
Propelled into the frontline of the organisation’s move to become a digital business, ICT leaders and their teams are at the same time still fulfilling their functional or operational responsibilities.
So we asked CIOs, CTOs, chief digital officers how they deal with the multifaceted challenges in the digital era. And from there, a distinct group of ICT executives stood out, along with their insightful responses that form the core of our CIO100 report.
We asked them to focus on their experiences around three pillars: business transformation, innovation and leadership.
Some of the questions focused on: What were their transformation programmes over the past 12 months and how did these impact the organisation? What innovations have they introduced and enabled? How did they balance these initiatives with their need to keep core operational systems running? How do they and their teams engage with the rest of the business units, and highlight the role of technology in the organisation?
Common threads and challenges emerged, as well as some unique methods the ICT leaders applied as they embraced the new work environment.
This year, our CIO100 leaders come from across all sectors - ranging from finance, transportation, utilities, education, not for profits, government, technology providers and startups.
It is also a strategic group. Nearly half of them report to the CEO and managing directors. The CFO or head of finance is the second most common reporting line, followed by the chief operating officer. The rest report to the board or themselves (as business founders) and to a range of titles, which include deputy chief executive, chief commercial officer and chief strategic officer.
Their greatest technology investments in upcoming months will be around improving customer experiences, cloud services, and big data/business intelligence/analytics.
Of the challenges that they and their teams will face in upcoming months, the following were most prominent: Agility/speed of deployment; managing complexity within budget constraints and leading disruptive technology-enabled change.
The CIO or the most senior business technology leader in the organisation encompasses a range of responsibilities. Their titles reflect this, and the push towards ‘digital first’ across the enterprise is providing the CIO100 leaders the opportunity to widen their career options.
This year, some of the CIOs in the list demonstrate how they are stepping up from IT director to CIO or CTO.
A corollary trend is shifting the CIO role to lead the organisation’s digital strategy, and their expanding remit entails changing their title to chief digital officer. Or, the organisation creates a chief digital officer post, as in the case of Air New Zealand.
For Kevin Angland, this means moving to the newly-created GM digital services role at Mercury, after working over the past decade at IAG, most recently as CIO. He says his new role reflects the extension of his previously more traditional CIO post to a wider ‘customer, digital and technology’ leadership role.
At Ryman Healthcare, managing director Simon Challies melded the IT and HR leadership roles together “so both areas were equally invested in initiatives and shared the some people-centred vision”.
“In doing this we have been able to humanise IT and make the end products more user-centric and accessible,” he says.
The CIO100 leaderrs talk about taking on responsibilities that sit outside their traditional technical mandate.
Craig Columbus of Russell McVeagh, for instance, chaired the steering committee that oversaw the law firm's multi-million dollar building construction project and associated transformation to an open plan environment.
“The complexity of the building project forced me to become much more collaborative in my leadership and to lead through cooperation, influence and persuasion rather than mandate,” says Columbus.
We are grappling daily with opportunities to get more from what we have and asking ourselves how much change we want to impose on customers, and what can be done to minimise disruption to their experience
All CIO100 leaders manage a balancing act between the operational demands or the traditional IT components of the job, with the need to focus on innovative projects.
Those projects, using new technologies and work methodologies, even technology partners, are expected to deliver the raft of benefits to the organisation. These could be reducing costs and complexity, bringing in new sources of revenue, or creating a new division or business.
The organisation expects ICT to be in the frontline of these innovative projects, or provide the best foundation for cross-functional teams to collaborate.
Dr Claire Barber, chief digital officer at Spark, says it best: “Striking the right balance between adopting technologies and embedding the resulting new ways of working, is a challenge.”
“The scale of change has been massive for us,” she states. “We are grappling daily with opportunities to get more from what we have and asking ourselves how much change we want to impose on customers, and what can be done to minimise disruption to their experience, as part of the process.”
Across Fonterra, the innovation agenda is led by a ‘Disrupt Team’, says CIO Gerben Otter. This team runs internal hackathons and competitions to produce new disruptive business models. The Global IS group works closely with this team, ensuring that prototypes can be industrialised “with the least amount of friction and cost,” says Otter.
The IS department at Fonterra, meanwhile, has launched the 10 per cent initiative, where the same amount of an employee’s time will be spent on innovative projects.
Chris Buxton of Statistics NZ says the team has implemented a series of activities. which take staff away from BAU activities to concentrate on innovation. These range from five-day focus activities to “12-week accelerators”.
“We also hold customer focus days concentrating the entire IT group on resolving customer calls. These tended to be the lower priority items that never bubble to the top and so tend never to be resolved. A recent event succeeded in resolving 297 requests and created an improved energy across IT,” says Buxton.
The push for innovation is important to keep the company competitive, stresses Dhaya Sivakumar at Orion Health.
“The health technology sector is experiencing huge disruption. As such, it’s essential that we stay at the forefront of what is a competitive field, by fostering a culture in which people are encouraged to contribute new ideas,” he says.
“We encourage the development teams to spend time on innovation, as part of our ‘scratch an itch’ programme for one afternoon every fortnight. The idea is that if you have a nagging idea for either a new innovation or improving an existing product, but it is not within your immediate scope of work, you can use this time to work on it."
The ‘Disrupt Team’ runs internal hackathons and competitions to produce new disruptive business models. The Global IS group works closely with this team, ensuring that prototypes can be industrialised with the least amount of friction and cost.
Next in line
A number of CIOs have specifically mentioned their work in encouraging a more diverse team in background, gender and skill sets.
John Bell of Fletcher Building says one way they do this is through the graduate recruitment programme at the technology group. Eight graduates were recruited in 2016 and this will be a regular commitment from now on.
“The initiative is designed to 'change the mix' - introduce fresh talent in tune with modern technologies and their application in both domestic and working life,” says Bell.
The ability to engage with different groups is already part of the ICT executive’s toolbox. Town hall meetings, presenting to the board, staff and in industry conferences are the norm for today’s ICT leaders.
Aaron Toatelegese of BNZ says one of his best learning experiences was when he organised a technology study tour with leaders from each line of business. “We visited some of the larger organisations we partner with like Salesforce, Cisco and Microsoft. However, we also spent time with financial service providers in Silicon Valley and a venture capital firm, where we met with start up companies and entrepreneurs who pitched ideas to us.
“We had the best time finding out how we could better leverage technology that would benefit our customers.”
The CIO100 leaders also demonstrate how they are making an impact beyond their respective organisations.
LIC CIO Paul Littlefair works with business partners and in adjacent industries as a director of LIC’s agritechnology subsidiary, LIC Automation, which focuses on hardware based automation for dairy sheds; and as a director at Agrigate, a joint venture agri-technology start up co-owned by Fonterra.
The CIO100 leaders also act as advisors in academic programmes, as in the case of Simon Kennedy of the Warehouse. In conjunction with his CIO role, Kennedy acts as an advisory board member to the Future Leaders Programme at the University of Auckland Business School. He is also a part of the advisory committee of the Masters in Business Analytics programme at Massey University.
Driving digital transformation while maintaining operational functions, staying ahead of trends and deciding which emerging technologies to take into the fold, are core to the role of the CIO100 leaders.
So what key insights can we learn from our CIO100 leaders?
Next: 10 areas CIO100 leaders focus on
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