CIOs from Autodesk, Lenovo and Verizon shared their views on the role of the IT chief today and into the future at this week’s SAP Sapphire 2022 user conference in Orlando.
One of the biggest changes for the CIO over the past couple of years has been a shift away from prioritizing the consumer experience to also incorporate making technology work better for employees. Jane Connell, SVP & CIO, Corporate Systems Group at Verizon, said that for the first time, the employee experience became as important as the customer experience:
You’ve got relentless pursuit of customer experience, but also now the employee experience. There are no boundaries anymore. Now our tolerance is for get it out there, iterate and see the behavior. You used to always hear how for an employer or a customer, you really had to do a slow introduction and training. But guess what - they're resilient. Look at the last 24 months. You are the blocker. Let's just go and learn and test. It fails, we move.
Prakash Kota, SVP & CIO at Autodesk, explained that his role has shifted beyond providing tools or systems to more about consumerizing the employee experience. When people started working at home, switching between the corporate environment and clicking on apps from their personal life, they weren’t willing to accept delays or going through complex approval workflows:
It doesn't happen like that. The expectation and experiences that overnight our employees had was, I need consumer-like experience. A lot of investment was removing friction for the users so that they can actually get things done, irrespective of where they are.
Talent management is one of the core challenges for today’s CIOs, with recruitment and retention facing additional pressures as we go through the ‘Great Resignation’. However, Connell views the situation as one of the best things that has happened for companies. With an abundance of talent, firms haven't had to fight as hard to attract people; now really strong talent is hard to find, it puts the emphasis back on leaders and organizations to be the best they can:
You can't delegate that, you’ve got to create that culture, that environment that people want to be a part of. You’ve got to create the work that's going to draw them.
Verizon has established a talent academy to consider how to incubate talent, how to partner differently and drive innovation. This includes hiring veterans, running apprentice programs, and starting programs at high school rather than focusing on college degrees, she adds:
We would do all of those good programs. Now we need a return from the programs, meaning we need to invest more and really give those opportunities to those programs. It's amped up investment in things we've already been doing, even down to how you write that job description. It's no longer about how did you make the resume attractive, now it's how's that job attractive and does it have the innovation? Does it have the thinking capacity that everybody is looking for? Does it have the flexibility and the empowerment to succeed?
It’s challenged us, but it's made us awaken something we should have always owned and had that strong ownership for. If you're not doing those things, you're not going to win.”
However, Arthur Hu, CIO & CTO of the Solutions & Services Group at Lenovo, was quick to dismiss the notion of a sudden ‘Great Resignation’.
I have an issue with this whole war for talent thing. It's hogwash. It feels so episodic. The Great Resignation was here, well before that, the internet companies were here; and then fintechs were coming. The point is, it's always been with us going back to the beginning of my professional career.
Hu used a fishing analogy to make his point - if everyone has the same fishing pole, the same tackle and bait, the same lure, and are all in the same part of the pond, competition will be fierce:
If I want that DevOps engineer who has eight years of Kubernetes experience and three years at Netflix, there aren’t that many of them. Sometimes people get so caught up in an episode like the war on talent, that it's so hard to hire versus thinking about the fundamentals, which is at the end of the day, do people want to work with you and your team to achieve great things.
Hu has been warned in the past that he’d never be able to hire anyone at Lenovo because all the talent are going to internet companies. It's not a thesis he accepts:
That's just false. I've gotten great talent from Poly, from Jingdong, from all these Chinese internet companies, because if you can create a compelling proposition that resonates with what you're trying to do and what someone else is trying to offer, you can make a match.
I really encourage us to get away from this hysteria that's unhelpful around the great resignation and the war for talent. It's always there. The point is that we should always be thinking about it, but in a very human-centric way. It's structural, it's not cyclical.
The panel also gave an insight into how technology KPIs are being redefined, in response to a question from diginomica’s Jon Reed, who’s on the ground in Orlando. KPIs are no longer about success criteria based on a project or task going live, according to Kota. Now, CIOs are jointly framing what the KPIs are with what outcomes are needed:
Gone are those days where we measure projects and tasks, it's more outcomes and value. We need to understand what is our corporate goal and what are we trying to achieve and how do we move the needle to do that. That's the conversation we are having. It's not, you thought about some project and you throw it over the wall and the IT team goes and delivers that, and then we don't know what you're using that for. It's more conversations about what happens when this gets delivered, who are the users, how are they going to use it, what does adoption look like. All of these conversations are taking place and then prioritization happens.”
The notion of KPIs versus how teams are actually doing can get disconnected, which is something Hu has tried to resolve:
I've had to spend more time to bridge that because I've had terrible reviews where you walk in and say here's my portfolio, look at all the value I'm creating. And the business president might say, I think that sucks, the system was down, or he has a pet peeve or she has an issue that you haven't solved. You have to work to shape not only the KPIs, but also the perception around them.
One way of tackling this is by ensuring there is a very tangible, indisputable change in an area the business leaders care about and can't disagree with, Hu advised:
It’s having one or two things that our senior executives can grasp onto. You can't just walk in with, I did my KPIs. Talking about KPIs, you're supposed to be dispassionate and objective, but the emotional part of is he or she my partner, did they help me solve this problem towards my business goals, is something that has been really helpful in my toolkit.