An opportunity to examine the role of a CIO

I’ve spoken to many audiences on the nature of the CIO role and the imperatives facing those of us in that management position.  The norm is for the audience to be existing CIOs or senior IT leaders but last week I spoke to some potential CIOs of the future who are at an earlier stage of their career, as Fujitsu hosted 18 delegates from the ESSEC Business School to examine the role of the CIO in the modern enterprise. I found that the intellectual energy, enthusiasm and willingness to challenge of the delegates made for a fun event..

I spoke about a day in the life of the CIO: the challenges we meet; the business drivers we embrace; the many different ways that IT can relate to business; and the consequential dimensions that a CIO needs to cover (not just infrastructure/integration/information but also innovation and intelligence).  I’ll write more on these topics later but they were intended to give the delegates an insight into the life of a “real” CIO, or at least this particular one!

Following my talk, my team took some of the demands that I face and worked with the ESSEC students to workshop a part of the process which our Open Innovation Service covers, triaging a number of demands, analysing them for underlying issues, identifying possible solutions, and finally investigating the value that the resulting solutions may offer for ourselves, our customers and our customers’ customers.  Of course, we couldn’t go through all of the details of our Open Innovation Service in an hour but it gave the students some insight into the way that we approach innovation, and they seemed to enjoy the experience and we were all impressed by how they took to the challenge.

Innovation is an important part of being a CIO and it carries with it so much expectation – everyone has strong views about innovation! So it was gratifying that the workshop was so successful and, even in spite of the language barrier (I didn’t attempt to speak French!), the students really understood both the complexity and the potential of what we are trying to do. I hope they took home some valuable insight from the morning they spent with us. For my part, trying to explain the many pressures placed on the CIOs of today to CIOs of the future was a wonderful chance to look closely at my role and evaluate how it might evolve in the coming years.

Translating innovation potential to business benefit

Spending a week with the researchers of Fujitsu Laboratories in Tokyo certainly provides food for thought.  It was not just the technological inventiveness and potential that we discussed but it was arguably the far more challenging issue of how we take that innovation and translate it into business benefit for our clients and wider society.   I am here with a party of nine colleagues from Fujitsu UK and Ireland who are the technology leads for our operating divisions and our market offering portfolio capability delivery units.  The overt intent of the trip is mutual education; we articulate the challenges and opportunities we see in our market and client accounts and our Japanese colleagues share their strategic thinking and the quality of their collective intellect.

My primary objective was related to, but subtly varying from, the declared agenda – I initiated the event to facilitate both sides of the equation recognising the urgency of our directly linking the innovative thinking and research to our clients and to jointly take the step of collaborating to align an idea with a need, i.e. open innovation. In my role as Chief Information and Technology Officer for Fujitsu UK and Ireland I see both sides of that innovation coin every day: as CIO I see the operational delivery challenges and the opportunities to obtain business benefit waiting to be solved; as CTO I see the potential as technology evolves bringing new capabilities into reality.  What I wanted to achieve from immersing my colleagues in the “art of what might be possible” was their recognising the importance of what they could provide, the business challenge that needs to be solved.

On the final day of the workshop we spent three hours collating all the interesting research detail into groupings that we could relate to the current challenges each business division either already had as a live issue or were new opportunities to create business value sparked in people’s minds.  We were helped in this mapping process by the Fujitsu Laboratories activities all being codified as supporting the two key top level research themes, human centric computing and the use of technology to create an intelligent society.  Of course the real challenge was in planning how we could take the potential and make it vibrant and compelling to our clients and sales leads whilst also retaining the sense of urgency that ensure business value would be derived sooner rather than later. Managing the time horizons of rigorous and thorough technology development alongside the intense demand for innovative solutions to deliver business benefit in the short term is ultimately the challenge CIOs and business leaders need to balance to attain benefit at acceptable risk and cost.

As you would expect there were many debates held over drinks late into the evening and one topic which related to innovation arose consistently; how could we unleash the creativity of our employees to provide insight on innovation opportunities?  Eventually I came to realise (or was clearly told, you take your pick!) that having handed out objectives to each member of the team for the trip it seemed right and proper that I accepted one of my own!  So I agreed to deploy a social media platform that would allow us to operate a “power of the crowd” event where we would set a defined set of topics on which over a defined time period we would invite both input and people to vote for the suggestions they thought most compelling and worthy of pursuit.  Of course this is a variant of open innovation that many companies are already successfully operating either internally, in closed communities or publically to great effect but it is new for us internally (we have used this technique with the public to defined/refined equipment for a number of years). We will run the event during October and I will share how it went, warts and all, at some point in November.