Controllers or enablers? 3 CIOs discuss how to meet business expectations

IT executives from Scotiabank, L’Oreal and the City of Vancouver take the stage at the event Mobile Enterprise Summit to talk about digital transformation

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It’s been fascinating to watch the rise of the CIO.

When I started doing technology journalism way back in the Dark Ages, the CEO and CFO got almost all the ink and camera time. The CTO might be interviewed if they were from a heavy-duty software or biotech firm. But the top technology or IT executive was otherwise not in the spotlight.

So it’s nice these days when a CIO takes centre stage to speak their mind. Not one, but three Canadian CIOs sat down for a recent panel discussion at the Mobile Enterprise conference in Toronto.

Judging by their three-way conversation, the biggest challenge facing Canadian CIO’s might just boil down to meeting expectations.

As CIO for the City of Vancouver, panelist Mark McDonald is in the public sector. Yet he struggles with meeting customer expectations – already sky-high and rapidly rising in the digital age – just as much as his colleagues in the private sector.

“We used to just push out services to them … but now citizens want services delivered on their terms,” he said.

As his fellow panelist Nadir Belarbi added, CIO’s are also facing heightened expectations from within their own organizations.

“The perception of the C-level management sometimes is that (digital) is easy and it can be built quickly. And it’s not true,” said Belarbi, CIO of L’Oreal Canada.

How can a CIO cater to these escalating external and internal expectations?

According to panelist No. 3, they can try gathering the IT people and the business people in the same proverbial room.

“You have to help improve the collaboration by bringing those folks together,” said David Del Giudice, global VP of HR systems and solutions at Scotiabank.

(As he explained, CIO duties at the bank are shared by various executives whose titles denote the business unit they oversee.)

Internal collaboration might break down silos at your organization, he said. It might make the IT design process more agile, he said, if you could simultaneously hear what all users need upfront. Most importantly, he said, it might force everyone involved to look at how all parts of the business can be digital.

Belarbi agreed, saying he tries to build close relationships with all of the C-level executives and marketing managers across business units at L’Oreal Canada. By taking a more collaborative approach, CIO’s “are being seen as enablers rather than just controllers,” Belarbi said.

Del Giudice recalled that a few years ago everyone was asking, “What is the future of the CIO?” More and more, he said, that’s being replaced with the question, “What are our goals from a digital perspective?”

Instead of pondering that question alone, CIO’s should be posing it to managers throughout the business, Del Giudice said.

“Ground yourself in what successful business transformation looks like and you’re just the agent of that” change from an IT perspective, he said. For example, he recommended linking your mobile deployment strategy to other areas of the business where it can either drive revenue or cut costs most compellingly.

This seems to reflect results from the CanadianCIO Census of 147 CIOs and senior IT leaders that was released in September. IT managers who always attend executive meetings saw their IT budgets grow by 6.2 per cent, almost double the 3.2 per cent growth among those who occasionally skip such gatherings. In addition, 75 per cent of respondents “strongly agree that line-of-business leaders are better (than them) at selling technology to the organization.”

Remember asking when CIO’s would get a seat at the table? It looks like they got it. But sitting there might not be enough. To really build a business case for their IT vision, they may have to reach across the table to build deeper connections with the other folks seated around it.

Image courtesy of iosphere at

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