Soon after Computer Weekly launched our UKtech50 programme to identify the most influential people in UK IT, over four years ago, we were approached by a couple of the female IT leaders that made the list at that time. They were in a clear minority – only eight or nine women on the list, even if that was reflective of the meagre 17% of IT professionals who are female.
That conversation was about how we find more female role models in IT and give them the recognition and profile that will help to encourage women into IT. That led to our first programme to highlight the 25 most influential women in UK IT. That first poll was won by Jane Moran, then the global CIO of Thomson Reuters.
We were, therefore, especially pleased to see that three years later, Moran – now global CIO at Unilever – this year became the first woman to top the overall UKtech50 list as the most influential person in UK IT. What’s more, 16 of this year’s top 50 are female – almost one-third.
But of course, Moran did not top the list because she is a woman – she won because she is a high-profile IT leader, driving digital and technology innovation at one of the UK’s most important companies, one that touches most of our lives through its consumer products every day. Her gender, in this context, is not the issue. But nonetheless, it is great to see more recognition for the women driving the role of technology in the UK economy, and as examples of the digital glass ceiling being shattered.
The first is the rise of “digital” – the IT leaders acknowledged that digital is already becoming one of those buzzwords that means different things to different people, but all agreed that it is a trend that is transforming how IT is managed and delivered, and its role in the organisation.
That leads directly to the second major theme – the changing skills and organisational profile of the corporate IT team. Increasingly, IT chiefs see two distinct functions. There are the back-end operations teams, running the traditional IT infrastructure under well-governed processes that focus on stability and reliability. And increasingly there is the digital team, often using agile methods to rapidly respond to business needs, developing software close to the customer, iterating, testing, experimenting, learning as they go – but highly reliant on those back-end experts for infrastructure.
From that comes the challenge of recruitment – finding people with the new digital skills needed. And here, the IT leaders shared successful experiences of growing their teams – Royal Mail, for example, which needed to find 300 new IT staff during a skills shortage, but thought smart recruitment using non-conventional methods, attracted nearly 30,000 applicants.
The message for skills recruitment was to target diversity and to recruit different profiles from those traditionally brought into IT – not just engineering or computer science students, but linguists, historians, economists, psychologists and so on – reflecting the importance of technology across all aspects of culture and society.
The final theme concerned IT suppliers – and really should concern IT suppliers too. Many of the IT leaders felt their traditional providers have not changed with the times and are stuck in a model of software licensing, hardware products and expensive and often unproductive consultancy services.
One speaker, Bank of England CIO John Finch, cited a large supplier brought in to help with a software audit, which ended up sending a £2.5m bill because the Bank was using virtualisation and cloud services in contravention of the licensing terms.
IT leaders agree that their world is changing, but they do not feel their key suppliers are changing with them. This is why speakers like John Lewis IT director Paul Coby highlighted the work he is doing with tech startups, and why government CTO Liam Maxwell flagged that over 50% of purchases put through the G-Cloud framework have gone to SMEs.
The best IT leaders – those featured in our UKtech50 list – are leading digital change, driving innovation, and establishing the best practices for others to follow. They are not short of challenges – and they are certainly not short of work to do. But everyone on our UKtech50 list shows that IT leadership in the UK is thriving and leading the world.