CIO interview: Career progression and business alignment

We speak to the CIO of law firm Kingsley Napley about his progression from PC support to IT leadership

Ash Cooper never really had aspirations to be a CIO. He began work over 20 years ago in IT with a job in PC support, but in February this year Cooper was elevated to the board at FTSE 100 law firm, Kingsley Napley, as its CIO. Throughout his career, Cooper says he has been focused on technology and customer service. 

Looking back at his journey into IT, after graduating with a degree in business information systems from Middlesex University in 2005, Cooper ended up searching and scurrying around to find any job opportunities.

Discussing his journey, he says: “I had hundreds of applications go out and only had a single response. I had about four interviews.”

But his application was successful and Cooper says he was given a fantastic opportunity to join an IT help desk for a law firm.

“That was the start of the journey. I started out on the help desk. I’ve also worked in infrastructure and I moved into more of a management role and was given opportunities to handle some of the challenges around management and leadership,” he adds.

While the opportunities that present themselves are fortuitous, Cooper says that when he started out in IT, he did not have career aspirations to become a CIO.

“When I started in IT almost 20 years ago, I didn’t think I ever really had aspirations of being a CIO,” he says. “It was definitely about trying to do what I was passionate about, and I’ve always been very passionate about technology and customer service and making sure that I understand how things work across the board to understand what the business challenges are.”

To keep his skills aligned with his career progression, Cooper says: “I’ve done lots of different training courses along the way.” These include ITIL and Prince 2. Some of the training was self-funded, some of it was funded by the company. Those training courses, he says, “help build your knowledge and the skills that you’re potentially going to need throughout your career”.

Change management

From early on in his career in IT, Cooper made an effort to understand his role in ensuring that the business delivered the service it needed. But making changes just for the sake of it does not bode well with those whose working practices need to adapt due to the new measures and procedures being implemented. A successful IT strategy requires concrete change management.

What is interesting about the role of CIO is that, as Cooper points out, the strategic direction of IT in the business is constantly evolving.

Like many IT leaders, Cooper wants the business to be cloud-first in terms of its IT strategy. While many businesses are on a digital transformation journey, Cooper says: “Our transformation strategy is really focused around infrastructure and cloud-first.”

He regards cloud computing as foundational technology. “We’re looking at the cloud services that we want to be able to consume, the  knock-on effect and impact of those cloud services and what this will mean for our data,” he adds.

Sometimes businesses are forced to make changes very quickly. For instance, the company moved offices during the Covid-19 pandemic, which required an injection of new technology and the removal of desk phones.

“We were really looking at how our people were working and how we needed to adapt the workplace to enable them to work efficiently,” he says.

What is interesting from the conversation with Cooper is how the pandemic changed people’s attitude to change. “Pre-Covid, there were some challenging conversations with a few people who said, ‘I love my desk phone and I don’t want to give that up’. The adoption curve took quite a few different twists and turns in terms of getting people to use the technology, but we were able to roll out soft phones,” he adds.

A few years on and the strategy is now at a different phase: “We’re looking at our applications and thinking about how we can streamline them and a digital transformation.”

When making IT changes that impact people’s day-to-day work, in Cooper’s experience, IT leaders should aim to pinpoint the target audience.

“Who are the influential people in the firm who are going to help you sell that change, and help it bed in?” he says. “I think you need to be able to really highlight what’s in it for them. What are the things that they’re going to be able to get out of that change? This helps them to be ambassadors for that change.”

Cooper’s approach to making changes is to ensure that people who work at Kingsley Napley – the end users of whatever new IT systems are deployed – appreciate how the technology-based change benefits them personally.

“We don’t just want to implement technology and bring about change for the sake of change,” he says. “We want the change to have a positive impact on the way people do their jobs on a day-to-day basis, like efficiency gains and cost [savings].” 

Cooper also believes that it is very important to make sure the technology changes that are deployed are measured and monitored.

Listen to the full interview here >>

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