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Seven secrets of CIO

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Seven secrets of CIO success as taught by the CIO 100

What can we learn from the top CIOs in the UK?  Originally published in recently published its Top 100 most transformative and disruptive CIOs in the UK.

Each name on the list has given a neat interview that gives a unique insight into the thinking of this country’s leading CIOs. I wondered if common threads and themes appeared in these interviews, might we have stumbled upon the keys to success?

I have had the pleasure of working with several who have made this year’s list and previous lists, so I am massively proud of their inclusion.

As I suspected there ARE some standout themes that recur throughout the interviews with these stand out individuals. Here are just Seven.

Seven Secrets of CIO Success As Taught By The CIO 100

1 – They understand the power of an effective team

It’s a simple law of business … You get your best results where you focus most time and attention. We work (or have worked) with many of the CIOs and companies that regularly feature in the CIO top ten and have found, time and again, that those that understand the importance of a strong Team, especially IT Project Management or Project Management Office teams, are most likely to succeed. It is the CIOs and organisations with strong PM frameworks who drive change or realise business benefits delivered through IT.

Click on just about any of the faces from the CIO 100 list, do a search for the word “team” in their interview and observe in what context it is used … you will find it really inspiring.  

From the Financial Times’ Cait O’Riordan who talks of “empowering the product team to decide which aspects of the site were ready to ship at what points” to Harvey Nichol’s Fatima Zada who talks of ensuring her team “were aligned, communicated to regularly, delivering in collaboration, and are all individual change agents allowed to provide stakeholder management across all levels”, each at some point extols the virtue of building strong teams.

2 – Passion

Every one of the CIO 100 exudes passion in the write-up that accompanies their entry. They each talk of innovation and disruption with obvious zeal and fervour but many also hint at how this passion resonates across their business – beyond IT, if you like. Indeed, I often say that IT no longer simply supports business, in many cases, it now IS the business and this is certainly true across many of the sectors that are represented on the CIO 100.

CIO and Project Teams who display such passion can expect a better stakeholder buy-in and therefore exponentially greater business returns from their IT investment.

I remember a time when, if you worked in IT and you showed passion you were considered “a geek”, thankfully times have changed and the most passionate CIOs are now IT industry thought leaders and the drivers of real business change.

3 – Employer brands

By far the majority of the CIOs listed work for a business with a strong employer brand.

Whether they are banks, airports or media organisations the companies listed are among the greatest places to work.

Take Global Radio’s David Henderson, he is the CIO of the UK’s biggest commercial radio company who are leading audience innovation through technology across the UK’s most successful radio brands. Creating cutting edge broadcast studios and groundbreaking digital audio advertising platforms (like DAX) are enviable projects to have in your portfolio. What a vibrant, exciting and rewarding environment to work in! How showbiz!

Over 80 of the CIO 100 work for a firm that I would say have a strong employer brand.

4 – Evolution

As you read the profiles of the CIO 100 you are struck by how far each of the organisations and companies represented are evolving and how that evolution is being driven by technology. Take transport operator Eddie Stobart, represented at number twenty-one by CIO John Court.

I remember seeing Stobart trucks when I was a kid, now the business has interests in rail, ports and aviation, not to mention energy and property and the company is more of an infrastructure and service business. Amazing to see how this firm, started in the 1940s as an agricultural business is now pioneering advanced analytics for insights into customer performance and mobile and telemetry solutions delivering data on fleet performance, driving styles, fork-lift truck utilisation and warehouse temperatures.

Evolution being driven through IT. It’s a common thread throughout the CIO 100 and should prompt each of us to ask whether we are sufficiently enabling technology to evolve our business.

5 – Agility in abundance

Each of the CIO 100 are agile to the point where reading their profiles actually increases your heart rate! The Trainline’s Mark Holt, for instance, who is obsessive about “time to market” to the point where he has all his development teams in perpetual delivery.  In 2014 they would deliver a release every six weeks, Mark’s team now proudly make 185 production releases A WEEK. Trainline is now 1,000 times more agile than even two years.

Mark isn’t alone, I challenge to click on any of the 2017 submissions to see for yourself.

Agility is second nature to each of the CIO 100.

6 – They are pioneers

The disruptive, change driving, pioneering nature of a great CIO is evident in every one of the CIO 100. Take Colin Rees, whose time at Domino’s Pizza has seen the business evolve from a traditional bricks and mortar business to a dynamic bricks and clicks model. With online sales now up to over 70%, and mobile sales contributing more than half of that. Can you remember the first time you walked into a Domino’s? Who would have thought that one day sales of pizza would be so e-commerce heavy?!

Then there’s HSE Ireland’s Richard Corbridge who has brought Irish health care from almost two decades behind “the digital curve” to a point where it is scoring world-firsts in digital health, include one initiative alone that will save not just €5m but more importantly save the lives of 90 children under the age of five in 2017. Now that’s transformative!

7 – IT knows no boundaries

One of my favourite aspects of the digitisation of business is that it is breaking down walls, knocking down silos, and blurring the lines between industry sectors. The CIO 100 consists of tech experts from financial services, media, transport, manufacturing, retail, charities, even Formula 1 motor racing makes the cut and they’re drawn from both the public and private sectors. As technology evolves to BE the business model rather than just supporting it, so too the influence of CIOs will increase. It won’t matter what the business deliverables are, what sector they are working in, the processes and the talent requirements will be the same. I confidently believe that each member of the CIO 100 could shuffle a space to the left, in the manner of musical chairs, and still deliver great business outcomes through IT in whatever industry happens to be in that space. 

These are just seven traits that run through the DNA of a great CIO. Just seven, edited from a list of more than 20 that I jotted down! See for yourself at

AND this is just from the UK’s CIO 100!

Across the planet, there are other lists of great CIOs who might be more local to you and … guess what? The same traits, the same characteristics, the same thought processes, the same disruptive power is being leveraged by companies worldwide.

That IS the secret to success. 

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