The pressure on businesses in the financial services
industry continues to be intense – the need to re-establish profitability post
the 2008 crisis, to adjust to new cultural and regulatory demands, and to absorb
new technology paradigms.

CIOs need to demonstrate they can play a leading role in these
exciting, but challenging, times.  They also
need to recall Arnold Glasgow’s observation: “the trouble with the future is
that it usually arrives before we are ready for it”.

The first thing the CIO needs is a framework within which to
think about the plethora of opportunities and threats that comprise his or her

These range from the strategic (how will cloud computing
change IT provision for companies?) to the more tactical (can agile methods
significantly reduce project delivery risk?). 

I have found in my career (including three global CIO roles,
in addition to working at two leading consultancies and in three start up businesses)
that grouping the trends and issues into three categories can help:

  • How is the fundamental business model changing (for example
    the impact of regulation, outsourcing, M&A)
  • Where new technology is impacting the company
    (digitisation, cloud, mobile, cyber-crime, etc.)
  • What other advances are doing to evolve normal business
    practice (social media, consumerisation and device proliferation, for example) 

In addition to looking outwards to our customers and
stakeholders, I also look inward to the IT function to make sure we are
building our own capability and value for money. In my view, that means four
major aspects:

  • Constant improvement to the cost of delivery (of
    both operational services and projects)
  • Building pace and responsiveness to everything
    we do: this ranges from agile methods for projects, more automated testing or
    better business understanding among developers through to more rapid response
    to service interruptions
  • Managing risk, and understanding where we have
    potential exposure
  • Providing opportunities for staff development
    and growth (even when downsizing the overall IT function) so staff have reasons
    to stay rather than leave

Given this context and mindset, I see the role of the CIO as
having six dimensions, which need to be progressed simultaneously, and in
relation to each other:

  1. Set the strategic context and direction for the IT function and
    help shape the overall direction of the company as a whole.
    This needs
    both clear understanding of the impact of emerging technologies and
    excellent senior stakeholder relationships so that the impact on their
    business units can be debated and plans developed in a candid and
    collaborative manner.
  2. Effective project prioritisation and reliable project delivery.  These are the change initiatives that
    shape the new landscape for the business. The CIO should feel accountable
    for this agenda but it also needs very close relationships with business
    stakeholders. Here it’s vital to remember that there is no such thing as
    an IT project – only business projects with a large technology or
    information component.
  3. Deliver operational stability and cost efficiency. This is the
    fundamental part of the job: the CIO needs to ensure that their credibility
    when contributing to the business agenda is not compromised by basic
    failings. This needs to be through empowering great people, not through
    personal direct management. Most of the CIO’s mindspace needs to be on
    items #1 and 2
  4. Manage third parties and internal staff.  This is a vital part of the role, often
    under-estimated. Spending time and focus on people is hard to do when
    there are 101 other calls on your time. But it is fundamental to getting
    good service from external partners that you help them understand the
    context of your firm and you find time for them as people. The same stands
    true for the internal people, who can, with suitable empowerment and
    encouragement, often do far more than you (or they!) think they can
  5. Provide formal oversight of governance, cost control and risk
    This varies hugely, depending on the scale and culture of the
    firm, but is an increasingly visible part of the role, especially to regulators
    and auditors
  6. Undertake other tasks as required by circumstance.  These can include acquisition planning
    and execution, post-merger integration, focus on information quality and
    the like.

Above all, CIOs need to be role models. They need to exemplify
a wide range of positive traits, from change leadership, business acumen and
technical understanding and execution to delivery, cost control, care for
people and the like.

No-one can be all these things all of the time but, as
Michelangelo said almost half a millennium ago, in 1526, “The greater
danger  for most of us lies not in
setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and
only achieving our mark”.