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The three pillars of an effective CIO

Last month O2’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), Debra Bailey, shared her views on what is required to be an effective CIO. This month she considers the three pillars that underpin every CIO role.


Digital transformation – finding the right path.

It’s hardly surprising that technology should underpin the CIO’s outlook, especially at a time when every modern business is undergoing its own version of digital transformation. But what does digital transformation actually mean?

We are in the midst of significant change; the rapid development of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, data lakes turning into data oceans, quantum computing becoming a potential reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence providing new opportunities across a multitude of industries.

But the emergence and evolution of these and other technologies alone should not be what is prompting organisations to adopt them under the banner of “digital transformation”. It should never be about technology for the sake of technology, but about how technology enables new things to be done, enhance workflows that already exist, provides opportunities for employees to be their best, and reduce the non-essential aspects of their role.

So, the question my team and I ask regularly is, what do these technologies mean for our people, customers, vendors and partners? And most importantly, how do we turn them into products and services that are really going to make a difference?


Technical debt or resilience

The way I see it is that the key CIO challenge is to embrace digital transformation whilst simultaneously managing and maintaining the systems already in use, preferably with as little distraction and frustration to end users as possible.

But how do you determine the balance of investment between the old and the new? You still need to mitigate risk, and draw on the capabilities that your legacy systems provide. And those same systems also need to integrate well with the new technology you are installing. And although every situation will be different, you shouldn’t be afraid to look at other industries for lessons in best practice.

Speak to others who are addressing the same issues that you are. Understand the business area you’re looking to assist, and get really familiar with their true needs. That should help you define the one thing that ensures everyone is on the same page: A good plan.

You need a plan for how you will move your older technology into the new environment to prolong its life and secure its return on investment. This provides confidence to the other business stakeholders, gives your team a good vision of what’s expected to be delivered, and allows you to see clearly the actions and processes you need to take in order to reach critical milestones.



Cost and speed

As CIO, I am always looking for different models to adopt to launch products more quickly. It’s why I always recommend that new CIOs do two things as early in their tenure as possible:

    1. Make an effort to really understand what drives cost in your organisation.
    2. Be completely transparent about what you are spending and why.

I’ve always found that if you understand, and are entirely open about where the organisation’s money is being spent then you can make a much better case for either the budget you require or the speed with which you can operate.

You can give the business choices by arguing that you can accelerate the development, and launch sooner, but at a cost. Or you can launch with a lower investment, but it’s going to take longer. Always be prepared to demonstrate what the business is getting for their money.

Agility is also key.  We need to adopt new business models, or learn to replicate them very quickly, in order to compete effectively. I’m seeing the adoption of agile working occur across every industry but it involves cross-business change. Sometimes your business processes, like your procurement and approval processes, aren’t set up to be agile. With the speed of change we now experience with new trends and consumer technology integration, it is the approach I encourage for my own teams.


The consequences of failure

A challenge I see for every CIO is that we live in an always on, 24/7 working environment. It’s a world where everything is on social media instantly. In fact organisations can find that they have a service issue via Twitter at the same time as, or even before, systems monitoring they are doing themselves. Everything is up for public consumption.

Reputations that have taken years to establish can be lost in an instant. So make fewer mistakes by proper planning, and adapting to new regulations.

But failures will happen – so just make sure you learn from the mistakes you make. Never be afraid to test or trial things as these can lead to those times of “magnificent change”. But always be conscious of the risk, and ensure it can be mitigated. Never lose all fear of failure, as that can make you lazy. Instead, have a good plan, backed by good research and an understanding of what you’re looking to achieve and a close eye on what could go wrong and how to prevent it.



Attract & retain

You need to be able to attract and retain IT talent now and for the future. That almost certainly means updating your current recruitment practices and fitting the business around the person rather than the other way around. We need to recognise that a lot of tomorrow’s workforce don’t want to come into the office every day. Besides, you may not even have an office to put them in. They will expect to work remotely, more flexibly, and you need to ensure that they can, and that you enable them to work the way that gets the best out of them.

So how do you keep up with the latest trends in terms of new roles and flexible working?

    • Establish apprenticeship schemes if you don’t already
    • Partner with technical colleges and universities
    • Recruit people with a diverse range of skills and backgrounds, not necessarily the ones with a computer science degree

Most importantly find a balance that represents the people your organisation serves internally and externally. The world is diverse, and the more diversity you can embrace, the more perspectives can be fed in to everything you do, from process, to comms, to solution design.


Consumer demand

We also need to recognise that we live in a very consumer led market. It’s challenging to keep up with the speed of change and the pace of expectation, yet this is what we must do. Increasingly people expect to be offered new services before they even realise they need them. They want more, and they expect to pay less for it.

As CIO’s, our job is to predict and meet that expectation, part of which involves keeping on top of the competitive landscape and realising that your traditional competitors are no longer your only competitors. Today you’re potentially competing with the likes of Google, eBay, Facebook and any other organisation that occupies time that the consumer might otherwise spend using your product or service.


Change is inevitable, but finding the right balance between technology, process and people will ensure you can take the right risks, and deliver what’s needed by the people you support.


Do you have some good examples of what works and what doesn’t with strategy and planning? I’d love to hear from you. You can connect with me on LinkedIn.

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