CIOs: dare to be different, add value to the business and prepare for exciting times

Self belief and business focus are key to success in a changing role. In the last of four exclusive articles charting the choices...

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David Taylor
Self belief and business focus are key to success in a changing role. In the last of four exclusive articles charting the choices facing ambitious IT leaders, management gru and best-selling author David Taylor invites three IT leaders to explain their motivations and beliefs


Pam Fellows of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group comments on the importance of belief, aligned with action

The key to it all for me is working together with enlightened individuals on an agreed end game and ensuring that all contributions help us move forward. I have found that surrounding myself with glass half-full people helps make working life so much more enjoyable, and is absolutely critical to business success.

It is important not to give up. However, sometimes I need to take a deep breath and think through what I am doing - is it still right? Am I getting the right results? Am I taking the best actions? This is not about a superficial milestone review - this is about inner belief and core goals - asking if your inner you is still on track.

Successful IT leaders in the future will have that inner self-belief and strength that says "I dare to be different because it is right" and what I am doing is the right path although others think not and do things to block the path.

Foremost, and something I have only just understood, is that you must find someone who either dares as well or believes in you to dare and achieve the remarkable. It is best if that person is your boss. You can also get support from your spouse or someone else you "do business with". In my case it is my boss, which means we will be achieving the unbelievable and remarkable this year.

Without that, you sometimes find it hard to believe: sometimes it is so tough to think the unreal, and because of that you have to have a reality anchor, someone who you need to consult to make sure you are not totally off the wall and in cloud cuckoo land. But mostly someone who believes you can achieve the impossible, because sometimes you do not believe enough and need that helping hand.

Yes, there are a few people who know they are one of the best and I believe that of myself too, but I also know I need others around me to provide support in the dark days that we all have. With that support I know I can succeed and do the impossible, but only as a team member, not just me alone.


Mark Lovell, IT leader at the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, believes the CIO role is all about people and business, rather than technology

The most important thing to remember is that it is not about technology. To focus on technology is a sure road to failure. It is all about people and their perceptions. The key role of the IT leader is to build relationships with the chief executive and board, to understand their needs, to respond to them and foster the understanding that technology is a key enabler of business growth.

The IT leader needs to understand the business, and should spend at least 50% of their time marketing the role of IT to business leaders. You must be able to listen and converse at their level. It is also important to innovate and take risks. It is OK to fail from time to time if you manage the impact. Successful innovation can reap huge rewards. You will not add value by sitting on your hands.

The chief executive is not interested in infrastructure, security or availability. That is a given. The IT leader needs to rapidly put a secure and resilient infrastructure in place, drive down the total cost of ownership and then focus on the real issue for the board - adding value to the business.

The chief executive is only interested in the infrastructure when it fails. Get the infrastructure right and focus on the real business issues.

I refer to my approach as collaborative partnership. My team works with business leaders as equal partners. After all, we are all part of the same organisation with the same overall objectives and goals. There are no such things as IT projects or business projects, just projects. Any project relies on a combination of technology and business change. Project success should therefore be a win-win scenario for all. Keep projects short and minimise the gap between pain (cost) and pleasure (benefits). It is important to ensure that you choose the right projects. Business cases, benefits realisation and measurement are key steps in prioritising projects and demonstrating value.

Be honest, be open and, above all, be yourself.

David Pirie, IT director at housing group Taylor Woodrow, explains why he is looking forward to a future that he can shape

I believe that the role of CIO has already undergone a significant shift over the past 10 years and we should expect this to continue. If I compare and contrast with the roles of other senior positions in an organisation, have they undergone similar transformations? I don't see it.

Taking a "half-full" perspective, this presents a real opportunity to evolve and develop the role. If we hold on to the past role model of the CIO as the "top techie", the position is doomed. It is certainly not my aspiration.

My own background is not technical, and in the senior IT roles I have had this has never been a hindrance. I started as a transport planner, working out the daily delivery routes for a fleet of vehicles. I moved through various operational roles, including customer services, warehouse operations and freight management before I moved into IT.

For quite a few years after this, I always considered myself an operational person, rather than a computer or systems person, and I believe this was my strength as I was able to talk the same language as my colleagues and work with them to achieve a solution that would work for them.

I have continued this approach. The technology itself does not particularly excite me, it is what it can do that is important. I despise the terminology of "the business" when it is used to describe everyone outside IT. We are all in the same business, with its success a basic drive for everyone.

There has been a lot of focus on leadership in recent times and I believe it is a critical factor for achieving success. Understanding your business, its market, its customers, its competitors and the strategy is vital for a business leader. Using this as a basis, knowing how you and your team will contribute to the business achieving its goals, defining your role and having it communicated effectively, orients your people, partners and suppliers to that shared agenda.

Finally, the most powerful aspect is to make it happen and deliver the results. I agree that perception is everything, and we do not do enough to market our successes - we are too busy making sure our backsides are not going to get kicked.

The rate and pace of change is increasing. The demands and expectations of stakeholders are growing. We have to take heed of these influences and adapt accordingly.

This is an exciting time to be a CIO. IT can only get better.


David Taylor selected three leaders who are in general agreement with his approach. If you are not, please join the debate by e-mailing him at [email protected]


CV: David Taylor

David Taylor is a management thinker, speaker and writer whose insights are based on a 25-year track record inside firms including Rolls-Royce, Hoechst and Cornhill.

His client list spans the Fortune 500 and FTSE 200, he is faculty member of the Young Presidents' Organisation, a visiting MBA lecturer at Imperial College, London and was voted the European Speaker of the Year 2004.

His book, The Naked Leader, was the best-selling UK business book in 2003. The Naked Leader Experience was published worldwide in April 2004.

For these articles, Taylor spoke with 300 business leaders between June 2003 and December 2004.

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