In our Digital Matters Podcast January 19th, 2023, we spoke with Tim Hargest. Tim’s background is fascinating; a Nuclear Physicist in,IT roles (working through Development, Project Management and culminating as CIO for European energy supplier, Uniper.
In this article we summarise Tim’s thinking from the recent podcast discussing what, he believes, makes an effective CIO from both sides of the table; that is what it means to be one…and how companies can best utilise theirs.
Some Things Never Change
Reflecting on the 00’s and 90’s, the role of CIO hasn’t changed in all that time, despite constant advancement in the IT industry.
To draw analogies with driving a car; modern cars may have more efficient engines, handle better and offer a superior driving experience – but ultimately – you’re still driving a car. The process hasn’t really changed in decades.
The same applies as a CIO. Languages, systems, software, and architecture have been refined but the actual process of operating as a CIO hasn’t changed.
So, what does that process boil down to?
Keep The Home Fires Burning
Your systems have to work, both in terms of reliability and security.
This is perhaps the most critical role of a CIO. If your systems are compromised, fail due to a bad update or can’t be recovered at all; you’ve a huge problem.
That may seem to be stating the obvious, but there’s a secondary consequence to consider (and this will come up again later); CIOs can be most effective when they have a solid reputation and established trust at the highest levels of their company. If you’re having to explain serious downtime issues, that’s going to erode that reputation and trust very quickly.
Forward thinking organisations often want to focus on “the sexy stuff” – new features and offerings – but that simply cannot come at the cost of basic stability.
As a CIO, you’re often going to be the only (or one of the few) technical professionals on a board of people who don’t understand technology.
From their point of view, you simply spend too much money, and they can’t see why that’s necessary. They’ll always push you to do more with less (often again, as above, so they can prioritise new features and investment elsewhere). A big part of being a CIO is being able to explain to non-technical people why they need to continue to invest in what you do and appreciate how much it matters. Don’t be afraid to push back. This leads us neatly to the next point…
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Relationships matter in IT as much as any part of a business. Whether you’re facing problems on the ground, need to push back hard to your stakeholders to justify why a project will take longer or to seek additional funding, it’s absolutely vital to have established trust and credibility with both those on the board and those on your IT teams.
Those same teams need to understand that you have their causes and concerns at heart. The board needs to see that you understand their problems but can break down and demonstrate for them why what they want (be it deadlines, funding or features) may not be as deliverable as they assume.
Alongside the CIO of an organisation there will also be a CTO and it’s important that companies understand the differences.
Where a CIO is concerned with “keeping the lights on” – that is ensuring that the technical basics of an organisation are reliably functional and secure – the CTO may be tasked with what we refer to here as “the sexy stuff”. That is the new features and developments that the companies board will love to focus on – the innovation.
In an ideal dynamic, both CIO and CTO will work symbiotically and understand and mutually support one another’s goals.
The alternative can be a situation where each is pulling only in the direction of their own interest and this leaves room for both discord and damage.
Although the bread and butter of being a CIO has remained constant, the digital world in which we all swim is constantly shifting, so it’s good keep these key concerns in mind. Keeping everything running is priority one, but don’t forget to forge and maintain strong relationships with the board and IT teams. This will help justify any issues around delivery times, finances, and resources. If a CTO is on board, aim to work symbiotically to ensure that resources are shared fairly to accomplish all aims (rather than a tug-of-war over who gets the most).
Tim has much more to say than could be mentioned here, along with some brilliant anecdotes that help to frame what we’ve learned. You can check that out below:
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