IT people who worked closely with business are going to be the future CIOs: FireEye CIO Julie Cullivan
Bangalore: IT and business has one commonality and that is the dynamic nature. While business model keeps changing and evolving constantly with time, technology also keeps transforming in new forms, applications and platforms. However, it’s the CIO’s role and functions that actually keeps the business moving by leveraging IT.
Having said that, certainly the role of CIO has also been impacted and influenced by the dynamism of business and technology over a period of time, to such an extent that the it also has to defy its very own existence and significance in the organizations.
In this interview, Julie Cullivan, EVP – Business Operations and CIO of FireEye speaks with Pankaj Maru of ETCIOM.com about the changing role of CIOs under the impact of changing business and IT models. Cullivan discusses about challenges that CIOs face today and how they can overcome it, the expectations that CIOs have to meet in their jobs, skills specialization and honing talent to become future CIOs and her concept of ‘courageous CIO’ and much more.
Q1. Since there are so many technological and business related changes occurring at a fast pace, in your view, which are the key challenges that most CIOs are facing today?
From CIO perspective, I think the biggest not challenge but the biggest opportunity is around digital transformation, which can be taken in different context that can be anything from shifting the infrastructure and business to the cloud. Not that this is something new but companies continue to look at more and more way to leverage as-a-service type capabilities. So I think lot of CIOs are looking at the same way. Beside taking advantage of this, the CIO has to ensure it is done is more secured manner without creating risk for the organization and brings value back to the organization as well.
I think the other piece continues to be around total cost of ownership (TCO). Any sort of initiatives, investments or works that most CIOs are looking at, is very much around how they can show that there’s a real return on these investments (ROI). And that return can be on revenue, success in the top-line to the company or might be more around optimization of the current capacity that creates a better TCO. I think certainly its continuing digital transformation and it’s the TCO component – all of that wrapped around minimizing the risks sitting in the enterprise and ensuring that security is maintained. While new capabilities are getting implemented, CIOs should make sure they don’t create any risks to the business in doing that.
Q2. Given those situations today, how should CIOs whether they are highly experienced or not, prepare for those challenges or opportunities, whichever way you look at it?
I think part of it is about how CIO is able to understand the capabilities that are available to the organization in the sense there are too many new things coming, so the CIO should know what to take advantage of. Hence CIOs need to stay relevant and educated; and I think some of which is around doing small pilots and test cases and things like that so they get to know what newer technologies are. But I think the more important is that CIOs are really into what organizations are trying to do, what the most imperatives are for the company and being able to do any sort of innovation, initiatives or investments that are tied to what company is really trying to do.
So I think CIOs been able to talk in terms of business and business value, and been able to do not to have technology discussion but have a business discussion enabled by technologies is really important. Because technology alone is just technology and what it enables CIOs to do is drive business and that’s more important. So I think having been able to have those conversations are critical, otherwise the CIOs become somebody that’s just being told what to do. And CIOs want to be at the forefront of advising right and coaching the organization on what’s available and what’s out there and how it is tied to what company is actually trying to achieve.
Q3. With the rapid changes happening around, do you think there has been a certain change in terms of the expectations that organizations and industries business have from the CIOs?
As much as I do think expectations are changing, I think some of the expectations have always been there — faster, cheaper and I think there are a set of things that I consider been there for many years. But I do think more and more, if you look at the profile of CIOs – it is changing for a lot of companies. More and more you seeing people in that role that have had a broad set of experience and not just IT experience. So I think more and more it’s been looked at as a role that often sits at C-level /CEO level and is influencing the organization way beyond just the infrastructure. Networks, end-points and service desks get really an enabler. And so I do think that profile of CIOs is changing more and you find more people from ransom part of the business or in other parts of the IT organization ultimately ended up in the IT leadership trying to drive business transformation.
Q4. Like the role of CISO, which caters to information security especially in banking and financial organizations, is the role of CIO also moving towards a specialization going ahead? Your views.
I m not sure about specialization but I think in some ways it’s somewhat broader the experience, the better in a lot of ways because the CIO’s role really spans in everything that company is trying to do. But I do see organizations creating the Chief Digital Officer’s role, sometimes it sits in marketing or sometimes it sits in IT, so I do think each company has slightly different visions for what some of the digital roles are.
And I certainly do think that there’s an expectations that CIOs are no longer just thinking from a traditional corporate IT perspective because so much has changed with the cloud –organizations are delivering their own services. I do think that CIO’s role almost continues to broaden in some ways because the different delivery models now. So I haven’t necessarily seen or feel like (about specialization of CIOs) but I think broader is almost better in a lot of ways. And I certainly think business acumen and leadership, motivating and retaining teams are whole of tangibles that are really important as well.
Q5. How should the IT managers in organizations need to be groomed and their talents be honed by senior CIOs so that it helps them become CIOs in future?
I think they need to be groomed as strong communicators and be able to talk in context of business and not of the technology. And yet they also should be willing to ask all questions when perhaps there’s not a clear path to get to where business is trying to get to. So I do think that it’s no longer just about strong technical skills and I have always talked about the concept of the ‘how’ and ‘what’. IT people are always good at ‘what’ but sometimes they are not so good at ‘how.’ And it’s really important that they are groomed across those spectrums, if you really want them to grow and able to meet expectations of the organizations.
So I do think that it reminds them that ultimately we are here to drive whatever it is the business is trying to drive. And the more we can be part of those conversations and engage and passionate about what the business is trying to do, the more effective we can be in terms of delivering solutions. Hence I do think that role has changed considerably than what was five or ten years ago. Besides, there’s also a scare resource challenge that it’s really hard to attract and retain not just IT resources but strong security resources because there’s so much opportunity out there. And all these cloud companies and all these other sort of businesses that have sprung up, which IT are companies but happen to deliver cool service.
Q6. To what extent CIOs should be vocal to speak out their minds against their organizations?
They should speak very loudly. I mean the approach is very important but one of things that I have said in some other interviews is the concept of ‘courageous CIO.’ Being a CIO you cannot be afraid, I mean otherwise don’t go and be a CIO because everyday there’s something to be scared of – new technology or latest security risk, etc. But I do think that it’s going to be really hard to be successful, if you are not willing to speak up and advice. However I also think that it needs to be done in a collaborative approach, making sure that you are looking at things from various angles. But I think you cannot be quiet as a CIO.
Q7. What’s your take on future CIOs in next five years from now?
I think the IT people that have worked closets with the business are the ones that are going to be the future CIOs of tomorrow because they get such a broader understanding of how company works and runs. And they are the ones that I think are able to have those conversations that lend themselves to be able to move up to that kind of career path. But that’s not to suggest that really strong infrastructure people are not going to be able to make the same transition.