The annual unveiling of the CIO 100, a list of the UK’s most transformative technology leaders, took place in London recently. As in previous years the list demonstrates the role that the UK’s leading CIOs are playing in the transformation of organisations of varying sizes across different industries.
As a former CIO and a previous member of the top 100 it was once again an honour and a privilege to be part of the judging panel. Being recognised as one of the most transformational CIOs in the UK is a real achievement and I would like to congratulate everyone who made the 2015 list, which was headed by Anna Barsby, CIO at Halfords.
For me personally Barsby was a standout contender who has consistently demonstrated what it takes to be a successful and influential CIO in the digital age. Her focus on people and how technology can enhance the customer experience and, ultimately, deliver bottom-line improvement should serve as a benchmark for other CIOs. The fact that she is female and therefore serves as a role model for other women is just a bonus. First and foremost she is an excellent CIO, who just happens to be a woman.
At the 2014 CIO Summit Barsby gave an excellent presentation that covered topics such as career paths, staff motivation, communication and empowering her team. The CIO Summit is organised into three strands, business, leadership and technology reflecting the three main themes covered by CIO magazine and the main areas of focus for today’s CIOs. Barsby’s presentation formed part of the business strand although it would have fitted equally well in the leadership strand.
Subjects such as a career paths and staff motivation are not the traditional content of CIO events and large chunks of Barsby’s presentation would not have looked out of place at a gathering of leaders from any business function. And that is a key point for the CIO role in the digital age; CIOs need to view themselves as business leaders who are responsible for technology, not just pure technology leaders. They need to sound and act like a business leader, take a business-focused approach to leading the IT function and contribute to issues and subjects beyond technology.
In my book, Disrupt IT, I define three principles to help CIOs make the transition from technology leaders to technology and business leaders. The first of these principles advises CIOs to not be technical. This principle sometimes gets a sceptical response from some CIOs, and particularly those from a heavily technical background and who still spend a lot of their time getting into the detail of technology. CIOs need to be passionate about what technology can do for their business, they need to understand the value and potential of technology, and they need to be knowledgeable about new and emerging technologies and how these can be applied within their organisations. But they cannot talk and act like a techie. They need to be able to communicate their passion, understanding and knowledge in non-technical language and within a context of business capabilities, outcomes and value.
It should not be immediately possible to spot the CIO in a meeting of C-level executives if, like Barsby, they have adopted this principle successfully. It will become evident who the CIO is after observing such a meeting for a while; they will be the one prompting discussion about how new technologies can be applied within the business, explaining how competitors or other industries are using technology or how trends in the way society is using technology may present opportunities that the business can exploit.
That is not to say that the CIO should not stand out in a meeting of their peers. Historically they are likely to have been easy to spot due to their use of technical language, the fact that they fell silent when the discussion turned to areas outside of IT and, in some cases, because they just looked or behaved differently to the other executives! Today’s CIOs have a real opportunity to stand out for different reasons. Technology is playing a key role in enabling new business models, products and services. It is being used throughout the organisation to support digital transformation, enhance the customer experience and generate new revenue streams.
By adopting all three CIO principles contained in Disrupt IT, CIOs will position themselves as a business and technology leader. And they will stand out as the person who is leading C-level discussions about digital transformation and how technology can be used to create value for the organisation. This is what the leaders such as Barsby, Chris Hewertson and David Jack, who make up the top three of the CIO 100, are doing.
The need for CIOs to position themselves as business leaders first and technology leaders second was captured perfectly in a tweet about the CIO 100 by Glyn Knaresborough of CSC, who sponsored the event at which the list was formally announced: “Just announced, the UK’s most transformative Business Leaders, who just happen to like technology.”
It has never been a better time to be a CIO; the technologies that are changing the business landscape are also creating opportunities for CIOs to become true business leaders. And CIOs that can make the transition from technology leaders to business leaders will be rewarded with greater influence, a higher profile and a broader remit within their organisations. The CIOs at the top of the CIO 100 have already made this transition and are playing a leading role in their organisations as a result.