The upwardly mobile CIO

Posted on : 27-02-2014 | By : richard.gale | In : Innovation

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Back in 2011 we discussed the challenges to progression of CIOs and changes they could make to move up to CEO level. After reading a great article in Information Age magazine on Richard Lloyd-Williams (CTO at Net-A-Porter) we thought it would a good time to revisit the subject.

The essence of the article is that the successful implementation of the right technology is integral to Net-A-Porter’s success “if the website is down we have no money” says Lloyd-Williams. The CIO and IT push innovation, keep the engine running and the transactions flowing. Richard’s predecessor went on to become CEO of MrPorter.com so we can watch and see how they progress.

Net-A-Porter is a classic internet company – a great idea (selling high end fashion clothing) utilising slick branding and innovative technology. So can the same approach be used by other ‘non tech’ organisations? We think the answer is a yes but it requires certain changes in behaviour and outlook by the CIO and IT teams generally.

Business Orientated viewpoint

This is obvious and most CIOs have a deep understanding of the business they work within. The additional piece that needs to be added is getting into the mindset of the CEO or Sales Director to understand and fully comprehend their viewpoint and drivers. This is a difficult challenge, to move away from the value add, cost focused, efficiency mode to true strategic thinking about the direction of the company and the path to achieve that success. A way to do this is for the CIO to be included and an active part of strategic planning and ALSO the execution of this which will involve extensive time alongside the CEO and senior team. A seat on the board of the organisation is a good starting point for this to begin.

Integration of IT into the business

Again we have seen this add so much value to a firm. It may not be the most obviously cost effective mechanism as local, expensive, business savvy people generally command a premium but the speed and quality of the solutions can easily outweigh the obvious costs. There has been a trend to move IT and specifically development away from the business to lower cost ‘factories’ of production. This may achieve headline cost savings but we question the overall benefit to the business. What needs to be catered for is ensuring a degree of standardisation (in architecture, documentation and supportability amongst other things) in the solutions delivered to avoid overlap, gaps and ‘instant legacy’ systems that cannot be sustained long term. Net-A-Porter manages this by having a common service orientated architecture that the business units plug in to.

Small, nimble teams

This is really part of integrating IT into the business. Small teams that can work with the business, and get a deep understanding of what the business want and can deliver on that vision quickly and completely. This agile approach and it really does work and also should be flexible enough to cope with the inevitable changes of direction as the business and market changes. Less than double figures is a good size for a team that can work closely together, have great communication whilst having the breadth to have expertise in the areas required to deliver successfully.

Empowerment & devolved responsibility

Providing support and direction to your teams whilst giving them enough scope to make decisions and backing them up where needed is a difficult but necessary attribute. As most CIOs have come from an IT background there is a certain level of ‘baggage’. This is usually a very positive aspect as it is required to help make intelligent, experienced based decisions but can be something of a double edged sword as diving into the detail of an issue can be too easy. Trusting, supporting and letting the team make their own decisions empowers and motivates your resources as they feel accountable for the successful outcome.

Continuous, iterative delivery

Large projects with big steps of delivery are sometimes necessary. Most of the time, though, a big project can be broken down into smaller parts with discernible business benefits drives momentum and keeps the team – both business and IT motivated. The ‘every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’ statement rings true in IT as it does for life.

 

I started this blog with the aim of showing how successful CIO’s can step up to the next level with the right skills and mindset. This has morphed into our thinking in regard to a good model to deliver IT projects. The points above are truisms, but ones that we’ve seen make teams and individuals successful time and time again.

High Performing Teams – Preparing for the “Long Haul”

Posted on : 19-10-2011 | By : john.vincent | In : General News

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This month Broadgate Consultants sponsored a car in the Britcar24 race at Silverstone.  Beforehand we knew little about the event but at the very least it seemed a good opportunity to support Adam, one of our associates in the Scuderia Vittoria team.  So we went ahead and with 10 days to go we had a quick look at the logistics and sorted out the admin.  Then back to work…

On the Friday qualifying we enquired how preparation was going.  Adam said it was going well, currently 31st on the grid and 7th in class, although a fire somewhere in the exhaust system was a bit of a set back !  I’m not a car enthusiast, but even to a novice that sounded bad.  Anyway, a new one was fitted ( along with a replacement bumper ) and after night qualifying we retained our overall position.

The race started was due to start at 4:30pm on the Saturday, so we headed up to take in the day’s activities, again not really knowing what to expect.  When we arrived we went to the garage and met the drivers and support team.  A few things struck me immediately.

Firstly, it looked very busy with the car still undergoing extensive tuning and race preparation.  The race planning and strategy had already been developed from the previous days testing, so it was really just about getting the final details correct.  Our car was a Porsche 996 GT3 and Adam ran us through the spec, including some positives compared to the competition, which had faster cars and were positioned further up the grid.

“It doesn’t actually really matter where we are now, it’s where we are this time tomorrow” ( obvious perhaps, but it hadn’t been until then ).

Secondly, the level of teamwork, commitment and endurance required to run any car, let alone a performance one, for a solidly for 24 hours was both impressive and daunting.  Adam explained that every car would likely spend an amount of time off the track dealing with technical problems of some kind.  It was how the team prepared and reacted to the situation that would determine the final outcome.  It was clear that finishing in itself would be a huge success !

These themes are naturally easy to relate to business.  We often see organisations with seemingly faster acceleration that are “quicker off the line” but don’t always come out on top.  In previous economic climates this might have been less obvious as once the race was underway the finish line could just be moved to suit the participants.  Not so now.

Also, in high performing teams the short-term view that may have existed ( driven largely by yearly compensation ) has given way to 1) building long-term capability and 2) delivering sustainable business value.  Looking at return on investment on more of a strategic basis can be difficult to internally sell against the economic backdrop, but it is sensible ( see last month’s blog on Technology Investment ).

Characteristics of High Performing Teams

  • Communication ( Common Goals + Openness + Inclusion )
  • Collectiveness ( Content Intimacy + Empowered Decision Making + Creativity )
  • Contribution ( Flexible Leadership + Personal Growth + Individual Self Esteem )
  • Interaction ( Trust + Respect + Constructive Conflict )

Back to the race….after a quick walk round the grid the race started and we made great progress through the field.  Up from 31st to 19th in the first couple of hours.  Then we had a driveshaft failure and the team went to work.  Now, at my garage I’m sure there would have been copious amounts of breathing in followed by “…it’ll be ready a week Wednesday” ( and of course accompanied by a lightening of the wallet ).  However, we were back on the road and amazingly lost only 9 places.  A brilliant effort under pressure.

We returned home in the evening with the car still running well.  Overnight there was an issue with the brakes ( not good at those speeds ) which was again resolved.  We monitored the race throughout Sunday with updates both via Twitter and from our onsite representative.  At 4:30pm we crossed the line having completed the 24 hours successfully overall in 17th place ( 6th in class ).  A great result.

It was great to see a high performing team working towards a “collective self interest” in order to achieve a long term goal.  Speaking afterwards with Adam there was a recognition within the team of both what went well in preparation and the lessons learnt for future races.  I’m sure next year even more successful.