CIO: the next CEO? Part 2

This is Part 2 of Dun & Bradstreet’s insights on handling the changing demands of being a CIO, advice on how the CIO can become a major strategic player and why companies should consider the CIO in their succession planning. In Part 1 we covered the mindset, education and company-wide engagement for driving strategic change. Now comes change itself, through technology.

6. Switch off legacy systems

Everyone knows that legacy systems are the great anchor weighing CIOs down... but how many CIOs, if they are honest with themselves, have become resigned to this, and stopped challenging their capacity to do something about it? Our research suggests many. Three years can go by in the blink of an eye, it’s an issue that slips under the radar. Every minute and every Euro you spend on legacy is time and money you could and should be investing in innovation.

“The truth is that very many companies pay way too much for their legacy IT and infrastructure,” says Magnus Tjerneld, CEO of MissionPoint AB. “By not renegotiating contracts, not archiving data they don’t need, and not eliminating old services they waste large sums of money. A large chunk of your innovation budget can be found just by reducing basic running costs. If you really want to succeed, you need to carve out space to focus on strategic issues and not be dragged down by the operation. Ending legacy does both at once.”

The holy grail is to turn it off. One large insurance CIO went so far as to establish a team whose goal was solely to switch things off. That’s all they did. A hundred switch-offs later and they’ve eliminated many exponential risks that hide behind old tech: including the inability to fully test all the many things which hang off every single change. Once it’s gone for good, so have a whole series of headaches. Prioritize it.

7. Become Cloud native

Many CIOs have yet to move their organizations to the Cloud. The psychological leap remains too big, not least the myth that it is safer in-house. It’s not. The classic CIO wants to control everything. But the reality is that every month you delay, the more you lose control over your future. Now really is the time: within five years it’s unlikely there’ll be a single commodity system that you buy that’s going to involve a license on your own server. No one imagined that the flexibility of the Cloud would be needed in such a way, but the winners and survivors in the Coronavirus pandemic have been the companies able to adapt rapidly to remote working. Those not on the Cloud have struggled.

Virtualization completely unlocks your capacity to process, giving you so much more freedom: it’s the key to releasing the potential of your data and will allow you to optimize your infrastructure. It allows you to upscale or downscale according to need. It allows you to be creative about the new services you can bring to market. It revolutionizes the speed at which you can do so, gives flexibility through use of a variety of languages, runtimes and frameworks, and is API-friendly, improving interaction and collaboration, because business to business integrations are rapidly becoming API based.

This is a good area in which to seek independent specialist external advice, because as you evolve, and your stack gets more complicated, a consultant with no selling agenda can help you achieve clarity, flexibility and independence. But if you want to be the person reducing costs, enabling new services and driving new products to market, dynamic infrastructure on the Cloud is the only way: it’s here you’ll find the access to data-driven decisions that were once the sole privilege of massive companies.

“There is a fear of letting go with many CIOs,” says David Poole, CEO of advanced technology consultancy Emergence and founder of Symphony. “Many still want something they can touch and feel, it feels safer. But the Cloud wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t secure and safe. The Cloud gives you choice, flexibility and freedom, and it’s these things that allow you to unlock your mindset; it’s the leap you have to take to become a new generation business. One of the major roles of the CIO now is piecing together the right microservices, assembling the puzzle, and making sure the resulting stack all works together. But that’s creative and progressive, and what will make the CIO the powerhouse of the organization.”

8. Find the right data

At Dun & Bradstreet, we know plenty about the labelling and ontology of data, having spent over two years carefully ensuring that our risk & credit product suite functions across borders for multinational clients. Our data analysts have attended several seminars and conferences in which speakers enthuse about the power of AI and machine learning: nearly all of the talks are on this. But without clean, reliable data, these exciting evolutions simply cannot exist. The heavy lifting is enormous. So, you’ve got to be smart.

With something like instant credit, it is possible to outsource the entire process with a suite built to accommodate your criteria, meaning you can be operational very quickly, safe in the knowledge that retrospective models have proved your investment will be sound. But elsewhere, you’re back to understanding your own business deeply enough to know which data is going to be important for you. From how your critical suppliers are themselves supplied... to bottlenecks in payment processes... to what to stock in a fridge in hot weather... to which customers to ditch and which marketing campaigns to double down on – there are so many options. Most companies are better off buying in the data access rather than building: it’s all moving too fast. Concentrate on finding value: the heavy lifting is a specialist field of expertise all of its own.

“The power is not really having the data,” says Marcell Vollmer, chief innovation officer at Celonis. “You can have millions of books available to put on your Kindle... but this has no value in itself. The value only comes when you have the right recommendation for when you really want to do something with the data, the right book for your needs. For me the excitement is how data flows are giving a totally different perspective on how your company works. Process mining, we call it, a kind of X-Ray that provides transparency and insight.”

Dave Pearson, CIO of SYKES, says: “The ultimate, the next journey, is for companies to have their own platform. An enterprise platform with data flowing from every single component, from online to offline, logistics, interactions... even typically inaccessible analogue exchanges like conversations can now be transcribed. There is value in this ‘digital exhaust’ as we call it. But there is so much of it that it will take machine intelligence to analyze it. That’s the next level of disruption – and the reason that companies such as Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Facebook are so successful. Their access to data through their own platforms is immense.”

9. Experiment

Good news. Across the board, without exception, no one is advising CIOs to bet the farm on a mega-manhour project for the next ten years. You’ll never finish it. Think small, experiment, and let things grow. Get to the next corner and see what’s there. Try A, try B, do it quickly, fail fast, succeed fast: with data you can work with this scientific methodology. Understand that there is such a thing in this field as failing well if you learn well. Understand that it is a sign of strength to know the moment to say “Stop” – don’t finish projects for the sake of it, pull the plug and realign to a changing reality. Embark on small, carefully targeted projects of six months to two years that can lead to the next phase of the journey. This, again, is the benefit of flexibility with the Cloud, you’ve got APIs and microservers that can give you the powers which enterprise software cannot.

“If you take Workday,” says Oliver McKenna, CTO Northern Europe of Workday. “Fifteen years ago, the founders stepped off an edge with a certain amount of knowledge, but a lot of creativity, entrepreneurship, and self-belief. They had the vision, an idea of the underlying structures needed to link employees, salaries, performance and so on. And they built a world-class platform from zero. They might not have had all the answers, but the point is, they didn’t have to. They had an unrelenting focus on the customer, and piece by piece they built on successes and customer feedback. They exemplify a team of likeminded individuals who will come with you on that journey, add to and challenge your ideas – you can’t put a price on it. That platform now supports 3500 companies and 50 million employees worldwide.”

If you are a CIO and are able to execute these nine steps, in very little time there’s a good chance that you’ll understand the business profoundly.

  • You’ll be connected and respected right across it.
  • You’ll be better positioned than anyone to understand where it is heading and why.
  • You’ll have better access than anyone to the tools and information on which the most important strategy decisions will be based.
  • You’ll have insight at speed.
  • At worst you’ll be a prized confidante of the CEO. At best you will be powerfully placed to replace him/her when the time is right.

Are you the heir to the throne? Has your board seen the opportunity? Have you?
Read Part 1 of this series of articles

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