Canadian CIOs

“The explosion of digital business requires new organizational models and business processes to manage the burgeoning complexity, and to provide a fluid foundation for innovation and growth. The CIO is at the center of all this activity, where business, people and technology intersect, performing a critical balancing act, yet poised to master the next wave of change.” – CIO Association of Canada

IT World Canada recently sponsored the 2015 CIO Association of Canada Peer Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia with the theme of “CIO 3.0: Drive Business Transformation, Master Change.” More than ever, CIOs and IT leaders are being looked to within their organizations for driving innovation and transformation. Nigel Fortlage, CIO at GHY International and president of the Manitoba chapter had this to say, “The worst thing any business could anticipate is to be disintermediated out of the existing process by the Uber, Airbnb, or Alibaba of their industry.”

Gary DavenportHow technology is procured, delivered and consumed is rapidly evolving into a digital cloud-first and mobile-first mentality. As such, CIOs need to be able to adapt quickly to the changing business environment which requires a new approach and mindset. Gary Davenport, President of the CIO Association of Canada, engages with CIOs from across Canada and is in a unique position to deeply understand the current and future state facing CIOs and IT leaders here in Canada. I caught up with Davenport to discuss the CIO Peer Forum and gain insight into the opportunities and challenges facing CIOs.

Brian Clendenin: What is top of mind for CIOs today?

Gary Davenport: “CIOs are in a race against the clock as there never is enough time. First and foremost CIOs need to ensure that the existing business is running well and is continually being optimized to both improve service, reduce costs and facilitate growth. Secondly, they need to have mapped out their digital transformation game plan, obtained buy-in and support and to have successfully put the plan in motion with constant delivery of the planned improvements.”

Clendenin: What complexities do CIOs face in the world of digital business?

Davenport: “CIOs have many conflicting pressures and priorities. They must find the right balance to take advantage of digital opportunities to drive the business forward and at the same time manage the ongoing needs of the organization. This balance includes leveraging the power of openness and inclusiveness of newer technologies while managing the inherent and escalating risks related to security and privacy. As a fundamental foundation, CIOs must ensure that they put in place the best team possible of both internal employees and external partners to keep pace and take advantage of the opportunities before them. Finding the right talent and managing the required changes are often the critical success factors.”

Clendenin: What can CIOs do better to align to the business?

Davenport: “CIOs need to ‘be the business’ in that their contribution and the corresponding impact must be as clear as any of the other c-suite functions. They must have an in-depth understanding of the core business and be able to effectively link that to the digital world. They must have a well-articulated and cohesive strategy and have earned the trust and respect of their boss, peers and subordinates. CIOs must lead by example and have established productive working relationships both internally and externally.”

Clendenin: When you hear “IT as a commodity is visible on the distant horizon”, what does that mean to you? And, how does that impact the role of the CIO in the future?

Davenport: “With the continued development of the cloud offerings, there are more and more options for CIOs to cost effectively take advantage of the scale and services offered by external parties. In this way, from an infrastructure perspective, the ‘IT Utility’ is becoming more of a commodity that should require less effort to manage. However, at the same time, it is what you do with the resulting infrastructure to support productive applications and data usage that makes all the difference from a competitive positioning perspective. This is where CIOs should be spending the majority of their time as it is definitely not a commodity.”

Clendenin: Dan Pontefract, chief envisioner at Telus spoke about technology acceptance and adoption: ‘that if IT leaders ‘just dump tools on people, they won’t touch them’. You need to share options and engage with stakeholders before you execute, otherwise there will be no behavior change, and all your IT efforts will be wasted. How will CIOs and IT leaders be more successful in mastering change if they take Pontefract’s advice?

Davenport: “I fully agree with Dan as just dumping tools on people has never worked very well. Progressive CIOs have always realized that you need to find the right balance between people, processes and technology to get the full value out of IT investments. Full engagement of stakeholders early on and effective change management are often the critical enablers for technology acceptance and adoption. At the same time, as our newer technologies become more intuitive and easier to use, and as our workforce evolves to being much more comfortable with a dependency on technology, CIOs are expecting that some of the reasons for resistance to change will become less of a factor.”

Clendenin: What is your vision for the CIO Association of Canada in the coming years?

Davenport: “Our vison is: ‘Growth; Influence; Impact’. We are looking to grow our number of members and increase the influence of the association by being the ‘Voice of the CIO™’ in Canada and to have a meaningful positive impact on the productivity and competitiveness of Canada. For our members, we are looking to help them grow in their careers, to help them have more influence within their own organizations and to help them as individual CIOs have greater Impact on the industry at large. We are excited by our vision and look forward to the future possibilities for the benefit of Canadian CIOs. We do hope all CIOs will join us on this journey.”

The CIO Association of Canada is one of the more dynamic and engaged professional organizations I’ve seen and is a testament to the member-driven collaboration. This collaboration will help CIOs and IT leaders better navigate the next wave of change. Jories Timmers, board member of the Vancouver chapter, nicely encapsulates today’s role of the CIO to be successful: “The CIO has to be a real leader to be successful. He or she has many irons in the fire: innovation, digital strategy, hiring and retaining talent, keeping the lights on, information security etc. – All this while developing and maintaining relationships with the other leaders such as the CEO, CMO, CHRO, the board, the various 3rd parties. The CIO needs to juggle with these technical and non-technical challenges at the same time … and doing this successfully will define his or her success and often that of the company.”

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