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The changing role of the CIO

The changing role of the CIO - Anne Weatherston

With companies relying increasingly on technology to drive growth and add value, the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is evolving to meet these demands. 

An experienced business and technology leader, we spoke to EnergyAustralia’s Chief Information Officer Anne Weatherston about the changing role of the CIO.

In your opinion, what is the biggest change in the role of the CIO over recent years?

This would be the shift of the role from the back office into the C-suite. While this is by no means a universal development, the number of CIOs reporting to CEOs is increasing.  This reflects the growing importance of technology to the strategic agenda of most companies. 

What are some of the challenges facing today's CIOs?

CIOs face many challenges due to the diversity of the role and the need to have both a whole-of-business and a technology perspective - making it one of the most demanding roles in the C-suite.

To be successful, a CIO needs to focus on a variety of fronts at all times. These include operational excellence, risk management, value provision and, increasingly, the definition and execution of strategic technology opportunities to support the business agenda. This requires a certain type of person, one comfortable dealing with both detail and strategy.

A further challenge is gaining the confidence of your business peers.  Very few people are trained in the fundamentals of successful technology-enabled business change. This can make communication and influencing a challenge, both of which are fundamental to building confidence and partnering on technology-based change.

Finally, the pace at which technology is developing and creating new business opportunities is a challenge. In the energy industry, for example, it’s perfectly possible for a new start-up to enter the market rapidly using cloud-based solutions that remove the need for heavy upfront investment costs. This business model didn't exist even three years ago.

For these reasons, CIOs need a wide-angle lens and a passion to keep developing and learning.

How valuable is the role of IT in driving business growth and adding value?

The world is witnessing a revolution in established business models and it’s all because of technology. In the next decade the world of work will change radically and those companies that do not anticipate and respond appropriately will get left behind. 

We only need to consider companies like Airbnb and Uber to see the impact of this change. They are challenging established business models for travel and transport, and this change has happened rapidly. Established companies need to think outside in and transform to meet the increasing expectations of their customers for world-class, technology-enabled service.  

What advice do you have for someone looking to become a CIO?

I never set out to become a CIO, but it’s not a path I regret. We're living in one of the most exciting times for a technologist and I wish I could do it all over again.

My advice to anyone starting out is: get yourself a degree in IT, which provides grounding. Then go into business for two to three years, ideally in the IT function, to build your skills. Following that, I would suggest embarking on an MBA, which gives you a broad understanding of all aspects of business, and then join an organisation that is large enough to help you develop - not just as a technologist but as a broad-based leader.

Beyond that, never stop learning and challenging yourself to build up all of the diverse skills you need as a CIO. These must include the soft skills as well as the functional skills, since operating in the C-suite requires that you build strong and collaborative relationships both with peers and across the entire organisation.

In your career to date, what are you most proud of?

I'm not sure I could single out any one achievement, but would rather talk to a career where I know that across the many companies I’ve worked for, I made a difference. The differences were varied in each case; from the delivery of complex and challenging change programs that enabled substantial business change, to transforming a failing IT service and defining and delivering a complex IT enabled business transformation.

Across all these roles I like to believe that I made a difference to some of the many technologists who have worked for me over the years, by making them realise the strategic importance of technology to all businesses.