CW500 Club video - IBM's Robin Riordan discusses the evolving role of the CIO

Robin Riordan, Executive Partner and Practice Area Leader for Strategy and Change, IBM, discusses the evolving role of the CIO with the CW500 club.

Robin has held many leadership positions within IBM. He is currently leading the Strategy and Change Practice Area in the Distribution Sector and is responsible for IT Strategy, Business Transformation and Systems Integration within retail clients.

As well as Robin's thoughts on the evolving role of the CIO, this video includes a series of vox pops with CW500 club attendees expressing their thoughts on what "progress" means to them.


Read the full transcript from this video below:  

CW500 Club video – IBM's Robin Riordan discusses the evolving role of the CIO

James Garner: Hello. Welcome to the Computer Weekly 500 Club. Tonight we are going to be talking to Robin Riordan. He is a partner in IBM Global Business Services. Robin is going to be talking to us about the evolving role of the CIO. Hello, Robin.

Robin Riordan: Hello there.

James Garner: Robin, how is the role of the CIO evolving?

Robin Riordan: We have undertaken a series of studies over the past 18 months or so with CIOs -- over 50 from major blue chip companies across all different sectors and the public sector. There are probably three main areas, based on our discussions with CIOs, that we think are evolving. The first is that there is a definite shift, we are finding, from a traditional role of a CIO in running an IT operations shop, keeping the lights on, to really being concerned about keeping the business running. That might seem like an obvious concept, but to a lot of CIOs we have talked to, there is still a tendency in some companies that IT is seen as: 'As long as the servers are up things are OK.' Very much about being worried about end-to-end system availability, and hence, letting the business run, is one area that is evolving. Secondary would be moving from what is fairly IT-centered change leadership, a traditional systems implementation. A lot of them tend to be driven by IT but with some change wrapped around them. We are finding that that is moving much more to the evolving CIOs leading business transformation, so it is actually being at the forefront of working out what the business challenges are and then finding a solution to fit that from a business process change point of view and the IT sitting behind that. The final area is around innovation. Moving from aligning your IT and business strategy to really driving innovation.
In all my 20-odd years working in IT, and I have been a CIO myself, I am still amazed at some CIOs where there is not an IT strategy at all; quite often that is because there is not a business strategy, which does happen, believe it or not. Also, they are not even aligned when they do exist. You find IT doing one thing and the business having no idea what IT can do. That sense of educating the business in what is possible from a change and transformation perspective and innovating is also part of that evolving role.

James Garner: Is there, it sounds as though that is quite a big change, in terms of the requirements of the role, much more really from being a technologist to a strategic role, as well. That must mean that there are new skills required.

Robin Riordan: It certainly does. What we have found in our interviews and also our general consulting work with CIOs is that there is a definite skill change. More and more CIOs, probably around 40% now, come from non-traditional technology backgrounds. If you are looking at business transformation and change, probably the key skill set you need are fundamentally around leadership. That, again, may seem obvious, but it is about leading from a business point of view and being seen as part of the senior team, the executive team in the business. Those skills of collaboration and networking, but also creating a team of leaders around you. It is all well and good being a CIO who is a leader, but you need leaders in your IT function, as well. Nurturing that IT organization and leading into the business as a peer at the board table is critical.

James Garner: Do you think that the role of the CIO is becoming more important in today's businesses? It is moving up much more into the board room and those levels.

Robin Riordan: It is for evolving CIOs, and this is the basis of our review, of the role of the CIO. It is very much for evolving CIOs; they are moving into the boardroom. One of the things we are finding is that CIOs who move into the boardroom could become a chief operating officer that is also the CIO. Several of them are becoming transformation and change leaders. They almost grow above IT but have IT under their portfolio, so there is a definite move to it. I think for those companies where the CIO is not represented at the board, that is not the evolved CIO, and therefore, probably to the detriment of the company, I would say.

James Garner: Do you think that is much more down to the personality of the person who is in that CIO position, not forcing their way into those positions?

Robin Riordan: Yes. One of the points of view that we have put forward and researched is the personality of the CIO is pretty important. It tends to be the evolving CIO who reaches that board-level position tends to be slightly more extrovert and more business focused, albeit not losing that grounding of understanding technology. It is that ability to bridge between IT and the business and really push out that is critical.

James Garner: Absolutely fascinating stuff. Robin, many thanks for talking to us this evening.

Robin Riordan: Thank you for having me.

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