IT strategy: The CIO’s guide to getting stuff done

CIO Strategy: In an age of continuous digital transformation, CIOs must create coping strategies to ensure they can deliver on the expectations of the executive team.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

CIOs are busy people – almost half (44%) of companies are undergoing some kind of major digital change, according to research from recruiter Harvey Nash and consultant KPMG. With so much demand on their time, how can CIOs ensure they keep their operations running and their bosses satisfied? Four CIOs give us their top tips for getting stuff done.

1. Focus on the needs of the people who will benefit most

Shaun Le Geyt, CIO at Parkinson's UK, is part of a senior digital leadership team who are driven by using technology to help people with the condition. Every hour, two people in the UK are told they have Parkinson's. As many as 145,000 people are diagnosed with the condition in the UK, which is around one in every 350 adults.

Le Geyt says CIOs who want to meet their targets must focus on the people who will benefit, rather than focusing on the technology they're implementing. "Managing cultural change is as important as managing technological change," he says.

SEE: Tech budgets 2019: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Taking control of that change process is as true for internal staff in his organisation as it is for the individuals who benefit from the charity's work. Parkinson's UK has annual income of about £40m and employs 450-plus staff. The charity draws on a dynamic network of expert staff, health and social care professionals, volunteers, and researchers. 

"Focus on the needs of the organisation – put people first," says Le Geyt. "There's times when technology comes up and you know it's the right thing to discuss. But you need to take a strategic, innovative and visionary approach. You must work closely with the leadership team to make sure that you're supporting the business strategy in the right way."

2. Be a storyteller who talks about the benefits of technology

Chris Worle, chief digital officer at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown, has a background in marketing. His experiences lead his to suggest that the key to getting stuff done is effective storytelling.

"I often see my role as building the bridge between IT and the business," he says. "I almost see myself as being able to speak multiple languages in terms of breaking down the technology and demystifying it for people. You need to show people what technology can actually do and what it can achieve."

Worle became CDO last June, having previously held the interim marketing director position. Having shifted into a more digitally focused role, he is currently focused on how to use technology to create new opportunities for the business. Worle says your achievements as a CXO are directly related to your ability to command a strong, knowledgeable team.

"I've always been focused on this area," he says. "I learnt early on in my career that it's not about the number of people you have, it's about the quality of people you have. We've got a great team who focus on really understanding clients and knowing how to deliver what they want. We just have to make sure they have the ability and technology to act upon it."

3. Get out the office and listen to people

Craig Donald, CIO at the Football Association (FA), is using digital transformation to help change the administration of the game for the better. His work involves making life easier for everyone connected to the FA. When it comes to getting stuff done, Donald focuses on communicating with the people who are most affected by technology-enabled change.

"There's two key things I'd recognise: listen, create the opportunities for people to talk and then listen to what they're saying; and be visible, get out there and talk to individuals – don't just wait for your people to come and to talk to you, make sure you go and talk to them," he says.

SEE: 10 ways to communicate more effectively with customers and co-workers (free PDF)

Donald's business transformation efforts are currently focused on using Google cloud services and big data technologies to improve performance at the FA both on and off the pitch. He says CIOs who take time to listen to the concerns of others must also ensure the best-practice lessons they think they've heard are correct.

"Be able to replay to people what you've heard, so that you can demonstrate what it is that they want you to deliver. I make sure that I'm very engaged with the national game board, who are the governors of grassroots football, and the county FA network," he says.

"I spend a lot of my time making sure that I'm engaged with them and visible, so they know who I am and that they can contact me. They understand that I'm trying to understand what their challenges are."

4. Get some downtime to help you stay creative in the office

Richard Gifford, CIO at logistics specialist Wincanton, is helping his organisation exploit the power of emerging technology. Gifford and his team are exploring how technologies like blockchain and the Internet of Things might help his firm steal a competitive advantage.

As well as managing the internal IT operation, Gifford works with external providers and an internal innovation lab to test out pioneering ideas. It's a challenging brief, so Gifford says the key to getting things done is to make sure he finds some downtime.

"It's about being able to switch off completely, which then allows the odd thought to float through your mind and that then crystalizes into something which – when you're working at full tilt all the time – doesn't necessarily happen," he says.

Gifford spends time cycling, which involves intensive training early in the morning – and when he's doing that, there isn't a lot of time to focus on anything else.

"I'm quite geeky – I want to make every minute of this training count and I want to know the power I'm putting out, the speed I'm going at, and how long I've been going," he says. "All that monitoring maps to a fairly scientific training programme. But I find that all that helps me to relax – and once I'm relaxed, you find creative thoughts start to bubble up."  

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