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Today's CIO: Survival vs Evolution

By Sundi Balu, Chief Information Officer, Telstra


Sundi Balu, Chief Information Officer, Telstra

Simply put, my role is not the same as the one that I took on when I first started out as a CIO, it’s not even close to that. I have gone from streamlining operations and finding those elusive cost savings to become an innovator, a user experience specialist, an end-to-end service manager, relationship manager and technology broker to name a few.

In today’s increasingly digital age, technology is defining how our customers and employees interact, collaborate and succeed. The two parties are interlinked and the way in which we work with our customers, sets the scene for how we do business. Without adopting and innovating with the solutions we sell, we cannot expect to inspire those who we want to sell to.

We need to make simplicity our top priority and switch our approach to evolving together and creating a culture of innovation. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Break down silos and bring people together
  • Set our people free to experiment and fail
  • Look to people, not technology, to solve problems
  • Augment internal strengths with external partnerships

How people access information is perhaps the primary cause of the shift we are seeing in user behaviour. We need to know our employees and our customers – they are evolving and quite possibly ahead of us! They are educated and vocal about the ways in which they want to work – and we need to listen.

Until recently, the main challenges facing IT departments were selecting the right hardware and software, deploying them quickly at minimal cost and keeping them working. However, a new challenge is edging its way up the list of concerns. Many employees are deciding for themselves what IT they need and are using it in the workplace without corporate approval.

"In today’s increasingly digital age, technology is defining how our customers and employees interact, collaborate and succeed."

The risks related to this growing trend – termed Shadow IT – are huge. If the IT department has not extended its security policies and technical solutions to the unauthorised technology, the company’s IT environment and data may become considerably more vulnerable. Any CIO rolling out a new IT system or initiative probably has a tale or two about one or more employees installing their own software instead, but the scale of the problem is likely to become even bigger if action is not taken. This leaves businesses exposed to risks like data leakage, compliance breaches and business inefficiencies, as well as hidden costs.

So how can CIOs best manage the adoption of new collaboration tools and technologies in the workplace? In short, we have to become more customer-centric; put people first, not technology and respond to changing customer behaviour. Our role as CIO has to be re-imagined – we can no longer be back-office bosses with a silo mentality of what is best for the business and its employees, we must put both employees and customers at the heart of our IT organisation.

To gain leadership, CIOs must embrace the role of “Customer Experience Architect” – actively developing strategies to translate technology into business solutions. Digital strategies to meet emerging customer requirements are becoming more important and exploring “as-a-service” models and agile, hybrid IT will help put the power of customer satisfaction to work. With change often comes uncertainty but, with the right approach, the role of CIO will continue to evolve to become one of utmost importance to all companies.

We are the obvious choice to drive this change – we understand the structure of the IT organisations, the skill-sets available and governance requirements to make it all possible. We must take a hard look at the IT organisation and question if the right skills and partner relationships are in place.

By focusing on digital strategies and putting the customers’ needs first, CIO’s can not only continue to help a business to function but also drive new revenue through implementing services and systems which retain current customers and attract new ones.

Are we are ready to lead the organisation through this new era rather than to play a supporting role? The answer is undoubtedly yes.

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