We spoke with the Chief Information officer of a global recruitment firm – read this one-to-one interview to find out what the role really involves.
What is involved in your current role on a day-to-day basis?
My number one mission in my role is to align the technology strategy with the business strategy. I need to have a vision of where we want to go and then set the policy and strategy to achieve that. We will assess business situations and opportunities and design IT to support and follow that. Ideally, we set policies to shape the way the business and technology interact, however, in reality, policy setting can often be reactive to a particular problem or challenge. Fundamentally, I seek to ensure that technology enables the business to do what it needs to do and does not hinder.
What skills are required in your role?
A CIO is basically an interpreter, so you ideally need a good blend of technical knowledge and business understanding. It’s also important to be a good listener, have strong analytical and problem solving skills. You also need to be an excellent communicator as you’ll be building relationships with and managing multiple stakeholders at all levels of the business. You should also be able to think about the big picture and be able to generate original ideas and practical solutions to business and technology problems and challenges.
The most important thing is to surround yourself with quality people and to have trust in those individuals. You can only be successful if you have a strong team around you to deliver the policies and strategies you put in place.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
One of the biggest challenges in an organisation of this size is satisfying the needs of individual business units without allowing the technical solution to become overly complex. Change is also a constant struggle to manage and yet vital – too slow and you become sluggish and unresponsive, too quick and you risk making mistakes and overlooking more appropriate alternatives. Enterprise systems are complex beasts and so moving quickly is generally tough. The bigger we get as an organisation the more vital change management becomes, but the harder it is to successfully deliver.
How did you get to where you are?
I actually started my career as an accountant, working for the ACT and Moorfields. In both roles, I also ran systems and so got lots of exposure to technology, including running networks, developing systems and maintaining equipment with the help of third party developers. After 6 years I decided that technology was where my career lay and so joined Robert Walters in 1989 as a systems engineer.
Within 3 months I had been promoted to systems manager and my career grew from there with the business, with promotions to Head of technology, technology Director and then to my current role of CIO a couple of years ago. When I started out there were only two of us in technology in a company of around 60 staff across 4 offices. Following an amazing growth period in the late ‘90s, we implemented service desks, put in a credible enterprise CRM solution and supported organic business growth in achieving a global footprint – I’m now responsible for around 90 staff with a remit across 53 offices and 24 countries.
Who would be suited to this role?
Technologists with good business facing experience and understanding are ideally suited to this role. Business analysts with good technical knowledge stand a good chance of eventually becoming a CIO as they already have that experience of bridging the gap between technology and the business. To really succeed in this role, you need to be able to understand what technologist are telling you and what they need to know, and also understand what the business is telling you and what they need to know.
A CIO is basically an interpreter, so you ideally need a good blend of technical knowledge and business understanding.
Why did you choose technology as a field to work in?
Having dabbled in technology in my early roles, I found it extremely enjoyable and challenging - every day was like the Krypton Factor! Trying to find out what was stopping something from working properly, or solving a business conundrum really appealed to me.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The reason I enjoy working in technology is the same now as when I first started out – the ability to solve problems and to put good ideas into practice. The only difference now is that I can actually make it happen!