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The trademarks of a modern-day CIO

Debra Bailey joined O2 as Chief Information Officer (CIO) in March. This month we met up with Debra to discover what she feels are the skills required to be an effective CIO in 2020.

Debra has held technology roles for many years, although she fell into IT quite by accident. When part of the way through the Civil Service recruitment process more than 20 years ago, she completed an aptitude test which indicated an above average analytical ability and she was offered an IT role, a step that proved to be the turning point of her career.

Following formal training in the programme management methodology she ran a series of change programmes in that role and subsequently in financial institutions, call centres and at BT, specialising in the deployment of IT where no IT had been deployed before.

“I discovered that the development and deployment of technology is the easy bit. Securing the business adoption, the business process changes required, and helping people understand and realise the benefits is much, much harder.”

It was this discovery that makes Debra focus on two issues prior to any IT deployment:

  1. You need a strong business use case for the introduction of new technology. It’s never about technology for technology’s sake.
  2. You need people on board, so you have to explain how the technology will benefit them and make their jobs easier or quicker.

From the Civil Service, Debra joined the Woolwich, where she was part of a small team pioneering a new banking product that linked current account and mortgage, and swept unneeded cash into savings ‘jam jars’. Her first CIO role was at BT, managing all group functions, including the HR and Finance platforms, fleet management and procurement. Her second was at Nationwide, where she was responsible and accountable for all IT development, support, operations and risk control.


So what attracted Debra to the CIO role at O2?

Debra was enjoying a short career break last year when she was approached by O2. Having spent six years at Nationwide, where everything was done for the benefit of its members, she wanted a role in an organisation with the same focus on the customer, and O2 felt perfect. She also wanted a role where she felt she could continue to develop and learn. O2’s mobile network business felt refreshingly different to the world of payments and transactions in her previous role.


The key priorities for any CIO role

We asked Debra what she feels are the key priorities for any CIO:

  1. Partnership

I think it’s important to “partner” with the business, which involves being completely transparent about everything you say, do or introduce.

  1. Thought leadership

Every CIO has a responsibility to drive thought leadership. Increasingly, organisations are technology companies with a business front end, rather than the other way around. So the effective CIO must ensure that the business is ready to exploit emerging technologies.

  1. Selling internally

Change involving technology isn’t always accepted universally. The CIO must “sell” the efficiencies, effectiveness and business benefits that will result for both staff and customers.

  1. Knowing when change is needed

Change is always driven by a business need. We have entered an era when products can be developed and improved through configuration changes rather than entirely new releases, which is making organisations lean, nimble and able to react very quickly.


Staying on top

So how does Debra stay on top of what’s happening in the marketplace? Here are her four suggestions:

  1. Have a great team in place.

“Recognise that talented IT people may come from another part of the business, so ensure that you recruit talent with a broad range of backgrounds and experience.”

  1. Exploit the knowledge and experience of the partners you work with.

“I meet with several of our key partners every quarter. There’s no agenda, and we use the meeting to discuss trends, feedback and opportunities.”

  1. Draw on the experience of others.

“I meet and network with other CIOs to compare notes and understand what is happening in other sectors and marketplaces.”

  1. Learn from your HR team and head-hunters.

“I look at how other organisations are structuring IT. What are the most sought-after roles currently? Which roles are proving hardest to fill?”


Debra is always pleased to talk with anyone about technology, so do get in touch. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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