David Smith has an enviable job title. The global chief innovation and technology officer at Fujitsu has held both CIO and CTO roles during his six years with the organisation. He has also run the transformation practice across Europe and headed up service delivery. He sat down with CIO to talk about the challenges facing IT leaders today and their implications for tomorrow.
What do you consider is the most important trend for CIOs right now?
In conversations with CIOs, there’s so much coming out — whether they have incoming mobility, bring-your-own device demands, whether its IT consumerisation or whether it is somebody banding the table and telling them that Cloud computing means it can all be done for three pounds fifty, don’t worry about it.
CIOs have an awful lot coming at them. One of the things that is critical is that they think in business terms rather than be pushed into becoming overly technologists. Sure, the technology is important, and you have to understand it but more important is [asking]: What can it do for the business that you’re in? And how can you defend the business from the bad stuff that might happen and make sure it gets the benefit?
That’s how we started with technology perspectives. I said that I really wanted us to be talking about outcomes, to be talking about the benefits that people might get and I don’t want us to be making unhelpful predictions about the future with a certainty that we can’t possibly have.
How can Fujitsu’s ‘technology perspectives’ help CIOs?
What I wanted as a CIO was a sense of the trajectory of travel. A sense of the kind of things that were happening and a sense of the things that I should be thinking about, even if I ended up discounting them for whatever reason.
What we have in the 12 things in technology perspectives is our view of what CIOs should be worrying about, that are driving the world.
The one I particularly like is big ‘i’, little ‘t,’ because information — the data — is ever-more important. It has always been ‘IT’ information technology but I think it’s very much big information, Big Data, real-time insights and those trends more than really cool technology.
Having said that, if you don’t have everything connected and pervasive mobility then a lot of the benefit, and a lot of the things we are seeing happening, particularly in the consumer world which is coming like a tidal wave to the corporate world, wouldn’t be happening.
How do CIOs get an idea of trajectory when it is constantly changing?
It certainly is a moving feast — and that is why you need to focus on the potential outcomes for the business that you’re in. You have to think about where you can take your business, what the competitive issues are, what the opportunities are and really start to position some of this technological change as enablers, with multiple streams of activity rather than binary. The successful CIOs of today have to cope with that multiplicity, all the time of course keeping the lights on.
Nobody is going to thank you for having a red hot strategy that’s insightful, clever and will deliver massive benefit in four years time if you can’t run the business and deliver to clients today or tomorrow.
Fujitsu is very pragmatic as a company and the focus is very much on ‘Can we deliver?’ and not overcommitting. The constant tension in my role is the DNA of the company says, ‘Don’t talk about this too much until we absolutely, 100 per cent, know we can deliver it.’ It links our pragmatic, engineering heritage. But there are also times when to move forward you have to take a slightly different view of that perception. Rather than coming from the completion mentality, you have to say, ‘This is 80 per cent there, let’s try and see what happens next.’
Innovation is often talked of in terms of ‘Don’t be afraid to break things’…
The one I love is: If you are going to fail, fail early. It was drummed into me during my time in the HR and media space but if you are going to try something and it doesn’t quite work, get out as soon as you can. Don’t try and get out after you have spent a few million and think it’s okay. We’ve all been there.
Do you find your role is a challenge in a company that has traditionally been all about the technology?
I don’t think so. The reason I say that is that, in the last few years particularly, Fujitsu has evolved some of the traits that were always there in its engineering heritage and attention to detail. It has caught some waves — and the waves it is catching are all about the user experience — the human experience of technology. We use a phrase called ‘human-centric intelligent society’, but another way of expressing it is that it is about delivering technology that is pervasive, and almost invisible, that enriches and drive a business process or a societal challenge.
So I think the marrying of some of the new technologies with some of the new drivers in the market — along with the consumerisation of the corporate space, if you like — is playing quite neatly for Fujitsu. There aren’t that many companies that can combine the information without the communications with product technology, be that backend or handheld devices or tablets. That’s where we have a real opportunity but we have to be brave and bold in how we move into that new space.
The other thing that wraps around it is the attention to detail, which can be articulated in words such as ‘reliable’, ‘robust’ and ‘secure’. That’s a really important flavour of what we are a trying to do as a company. And that plays back to the technology perspectives language, where we try to remain objective and not too overexcited about the art of the possible while making sure there is a strong understanding of how one might work around challenges.
CIOs often excel at that and yet so many of their vendor or service provider interactions are about hype. Do you agree?
I think we work in an industry that is prone to hype. Sometimes you need it to create momentum and start to create environments that are willing to take that step forward as innovators. But I think it is important to remain pragmatic and remain grounded and while there may be others in the industry that don’t, I think we do. It’s a key part of the organisation and if we lose that, I think it would be a real loss.
Traditionally, CIOs have been at the centre of control, but that doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with consumerisation of IT. How do you perceive that dichotomy?
I’m not sure it’s a loss of control — I wouldn’t have articulated as that in my previous CIO roles; I would have articulated it as protecting the company and making sure the intellectual property — the key essence of the company — wasn’t exposed. I think CIOs have always done that and I think they’re still having to do that.
I think what we are trying to do in our offerings is given them ways to not try and stand in front of the tidal wave, but to find ways to move with it while still fulfilling the absolutely key role of managing risk for the company. Because understanding how the business process works, understanding how the data is accessed and understanding the enterprise architectures — there aren’t many other people, if any, in the company who have that complete view and without that complete view, you cannot protect.
The good CIOs are still doing what they have always had to do; our job is to give them the flexibility and the tools to actually manage [IT consumerisation]. If you just say ‘no’ to something that is an unstoppable force, sooner or later it is going to smash you into pieces. When you talk to CIOs, they will tell you they have locked down their firewalls, they’ve done XYZ and when you ask them how they stop people from surfing on their smartphones, how are they making sure that there is no connection between that device and the data store that you’re exposing through the Web? Are you checking the type of device they’re accessing through the browser to the backend submission? As good CIOs you can’t ever have an airtight solution and hold steady — it might be airtight today but something will come along tomorrow and you have to be able react to that.