CIOs & Covid 19, Diversity & Digital Opportunities

With organisations still busy trying to navigate the complexity of political, socio, and economic impacts, technology is in the spotlight as organisations lean heavily on digital solutions to position themselves to survive and subsequently thrive.

After nearly eight months, CIOs are stepping out of firefighting mode; having set people up to work from home, ensured system reliability, and mitigated against the increased risk of cyber-attacks. Full pivot completed, CIOs are now focused on future proofing and innovation. There is a real opportunity here for trailblazing technology leaders: finally the chance to address some of the mostly hotly debated topics in technology with real gusto, to initiate and instigate real change, and set the tone for the new normal.

Large portions of the conversation so far have focused on CIOs accelerating the digital agenda due to Covid-19. With new patterns of customer demand emerging, and potentially increased traffic through digital channels, there is an impending need to focus on all aspects of the digital ecosystem. As we all move towards understanding new customer rhythms and digital engagement opportunities through these unprecedented times, there is unquestionably an opportunity to accelerate digital transformation, identify new revenue channels, and develop true differentiation.

This is nothing new in reality! Most CIOs have been beating the “Digital Transformation” drum for years. The modern CIO was fashioned from the first onset of the digital age years ago as companies asked them to become customer advocates, commercially savvier, and to help drive business strategy. The real change is seeing slow to agree executive boards finally come round to the same mindset. The next shift must see all technology leaders jump on this unexpected opportunity and move from theory to practice quickly and effectively, before they get left behind.

There is another substantial opportunity within grasp. The solutions of a transformed digital eco-system could well be the answer to another hotly contested topic – diversity. Not only can technology leaders accelerate their digital programmes with fresh aplomb, but now they can also address diversity in a way never possible before. Previous barriers have been weakened, if not eliminated entirely due to the pandemic. The lowered expectations to be in the office or even be in the same country are great for diversity. Companies have never been so comfortable with working from home models, and far from seeing it as detrimental, most are highlighting the positive increase in productivity. With this agenda firmly set in future strategy, there is an opportunity for CIOs to change the fabric of their teams and finally begin to narrow the IT diversity divide.

CIOs and their leadership teams have never had a better opportunity to set themselves apart and further make the case for a seat at the top table.  The digital agenda has never been more prominent, but CIOs must deliver swift, cost-effective solutions that deliver sustainable long-term business benefit. They must also grasp the opportunity to embed improved diversity within their teams and acutely overcome the technology diversity challenge.

Norman Broadbent’s CIO Practice works with CIOs and their leadership teams to help address these issues. With services covering Leadership Consulting, Research & Insight, Interim and Executive Search; we are well equipped to support technology leaders in delivering and embedding digital transformation and helping to address diversity across entire organisations. If you would like to discuss this article further, learn more about The Norman Broadbent Group, or discuss specific people or organisational challenges, please do not hesitate to contact Ross Stacey via ross.stacey@normanbroadbent.com for an initial confidential discussion.

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Back to the future?

Through all the conversations I have had with businesses over the course of lockdown, several themes are emerging, all of which in some way point to significant social change. The most obvious of these, of course, is ‘working from home’, which has become a necessity for most businesses and was enabled by IT departments at blistering pace. This however, is just the tip of the iceberg and the changes that it signifies. We have been in the grip of a digital revolution it seems for over a decade but when things started to go wrong this year, many businesses were still way behind the curve and some may never catch up. Others have been able to accelerate their programmes to great effect; more than one CIO has admitted to me recently that they have been able to overcome twenty years of technical debt in several weeks. This trend will deepen as we spend more time in our homes and the longer it goes on the more embedded it becomes in our culture. What does this mean for the future? Working from home was once the preserve of the special case, the exception to the rule when I started out. The Global Financial Crisis was largely responsible for bringing WFH into the mainstream, as City firms and large corporates as well as small businesses, sought to reduce overheads. As communication technology improved, so did our acceptance of it as a means of doing business and so theses days, at least in leadership positions, the odd day working from home is a given. This crisis though is smashing through the last taboos of WFH. Banks are proving to themselves that they can still deliver with a distributed workforce and remain compliant. Call centres are coming back on line (literally), without the need for hive like communal spaces. Even my industry is learning that heads (and shoulders), can still be hunted, as long as you can see and hear them.

So, what happens when the lockdown ends, will it be back to normal? Our own recent history teaches us that this is unlikely. Consider the case of equality between the sexes if you will. The suffragette movement in this country began in 1903 but half of our population were still denied the vote until after their contribution to the great war was recognised in 1928. It took yet another crisis (the Second World War), and the necessity of radically different working practices, to really begin the march towards equality in the workplace. However, once the dust settled on these terrible events, our culture was forever changed. To a lesser extent, the same is true today, as businesses that do not adapt in the crisis will not win their battle to survive and those that do should expect those changes to become the new normal. One of the most pronounced impacts that this is likely to have is the way that businesses think about office space. One FTSE100 CFO recently suggested that their weighting for desk requirements was likely to be adjusted, from 0.8 desks per person, to as little as 0.4 desks per person in head office. Having proved that they can operate successfully with most of the workforce permanently at home, many businesses will now be considering the cost benefits of basing more of their workforce away from expensive offices, or large costly call centres. This in turn will have an impact on supporting industries, from business attire retailers expecting a continued drop in demand, to food service providers trying to adjust to feeding us in different ways. Another is the need to adjust to a radically different information security landscape. More than one of my clients has suggested that businesses will swing heavily towards thin client environments in the aftermath.  Everything as a service is likely to become more attractive to a wider audience as we evolve and there are no lack of potential solutions, waiting to attract the PE investment that is bound to come.

As a society we have been edging towards a better work-life balance for decades. We are told that this will become more a necessity when AI eventually delivers on some or indeed any of its promise. We may not be crying out for change like the suffragettes, we may not be at war with each other. But one thing is certain, we will adapt, we will survive and eventually thrive again. If along the way we see at least a little of our ‘cottage industry’ past return, it can’t be a bad thing, can it?

If you would like to confidentially discuss how The Norman Broadbent Group  could help you overcome your business or people challenges, please contact, Neil Pilkington, on 07979 700 739 or via neil.pilkington@normanbroadbent.com

 

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Case Study: Interim CIO, Industry Sector: Private Equity

Our CIO Interim Practice supports Organisations and Boards experiencing change and transformation, gap management challenges, and pressure points. A confidential service built on over 40 years of experience, our networks of Interim Executives allow us to introduce trusted senior Interim Managers within days so that business momentum is not lost.

Problem

Norman Broadbent Interim Management were asked to support the COO of a leading European mid-market Private Equity firm. ‘Top 5’ in its field, they needed to find a senior Interim Head of Technology to initially work alongside, then take over from the CIO. The were a number of immediate issues to deal with, but primarily the management had lost confidence that Technology could deliver to the organisation. This meant more management time was being spent addressing shortfalls, downtime and other issues, while limiting strategic development. In addition, the board wanted an IT leader who could not only “get it done”, but also one that could contribute to Portfolio activities as well. The Board were keen for us to support the COO and provide a ‘C’ level Interim Manager who would right the ship, get technology working again and start a review , rebuilding confidence throughout the organisation.

Solution

We arranged to meet the clients in their London Offices, and took an in-depth brief. Given the sensitivity of the role, the client also asked us to work under NDA. We started to immediately to engage with the Norman Broadbent network, and set about meeting and briefing relevant Interim Managers, all under NDA. Within 72 hours were able to submit four qualified, available and referenced candidates to the client. The top three were interviewed, and two candidates went through to a final meeting with a New York based board member. Feedback from this was both were appointable, so when the first candidate pulled out at point of offer, we had a very strong fall back candidate who accepted the role.

Outcome

The client appointed our Head of Technology within a week of our first conversation, and he started the following week. Immediately, the Interim Manager was able to identify key issues in service delivery, and remedy them to the delight of the stakeholders. Furthermore, he began rebuilding the trust that had broken down, utilising this when he stepped into the CIO role. He also began to put in place a new strategy, including an enterprise cloud migration, allowing this truly global firm to work seamlessly 24/7 from any office. In addition to all the core challenges, he was also asked by the firm to support with due diligence on future acquisitions, as well as supporting and advising the leadership of existing portfolio companies. The firm were delighted, renewing him a number of times, and he was described by one ExCo board member as “simply a gamechanger”!

For a confidential call to discuss how Norman Broadbent Group could help you overcome your business or people challenges please contact Mike Davies on 07411 686616 or via email at mike.davies@normanbroadbent.com

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Q: What makes a good CIO?

A: This is a question that I have been asked many times over the last twenty some years and one that in many ways has not changed in all that time. Trends in technology have come and gone, we have entered a digital age and as a result seen the demand for more and faster change. Consumers now have all of the power in the value chain and businesses that don’t realise this, are as quickly forgotten as our last holiday. Reporting lines have changed to reflect the changing emphasis on technology in most sectors. Every survey I read these days reports that more tech leaders now report to CEO’s and sit at the exec table. Having said that, those same surveys will also note that some 35-40% of them still report directly to their CFO.

Whatever the reporting line of the CIO/CTO/CDO etc. it is clear to me that to be a tech leader, you must first be a great business leader.  When I have been asked “what makes an IT leader a CIO”, I have often used the CFO as an example.  After all, the CFO is a great business leader but they do not “do the accounts”. In the same way, a CIO helps to lead the businesses but they do not “do the IT”.  Technology and the people and process that underpin it, are simply the levers a CIO pulls to deliver the results the business requires for its customers.

There are several key indicators that should define and can be used to help select a CIO.

  • Commercial Acumen: CIO’s are responsible for the design and delivery of a technology environments that support the business. They should be capable of articulating a clear investment strategy; one that delivers tangible ROI and follows the simple mantra “People Process Technology”, after all there are no IT Projects.
  • Speak the same language: My first measure of a CIO candidate is often the terms in which they communicate their successes. When asked about their business how do they respond? If the discussion leans towards customer experience, innovation, operational efficiency or shareholder value, chances are you are talking to a CIO. If the subjects tend towards the technical and abstract, the chances are, you are not.
  • Leadership: If a CIO does not “do IT”, then what do they do? Like all good business ‘leaders’ the CIO should do just that… lead. They should be capable of helping the business to create its overall strategy. They should then create the Vision for IT and empower their teams to create a technology strategy to deliver on it. Often this will run counter to what has gone before and will require cultural changes throughout the business. Showing strong leadership during these types of transitions, incidentally, is what often leads to the CIO becoming the COO.
  • Agility & Innovation: The days of boom and bust monolithic technology investments are over. Consumer driven demand has created an economy where every industry must now be more ‘agile’. Sometimes this is simply interpreted as the need for agile development methodologies. However, the CIO must support a much wider degree of agility across the business. They must provide an environment where innovation becomes part of the culture, rather than just a team and change management is the norm. After all, if change becomes the constant and the next tech trend could disrupt your business, then ‘change management’ is the key to survival.

If you would like to confidentially discuss how Norman Broadbent Group could help you overcome your business or people challenges, please contact, Neil Pilkington, on 07483 015 605 or via neil.pilkington@normanbroadbent.com

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