Front-row seats to a CIO roundtable

The enterprise IT discussion might seem stuck in a rut but at a time when the role of a CIO is evolving, there's are still plenty of interesting points to ponder.

The more things change, the more they stay the same: that adage has never been more apt than in the enterprise IT industry.

While technology accelerates at the speed of light the discussion around it progresses at a snail’s pace, with everyone seemingly running around in circles. A recent CIO panel at the Cisco Live event earlier this month provided a cogent example of this. Technology Spectator attended this same forum last year, and it seems the major themes pervading the discussion haven’t changed in the past 12 months. 

Presiding over this “groundhog day” scenario were a few CIOs from the same event last year, one notable absentee and one newcomer.

Matthew Maw from Tatts Group and V.C Gopalratnam from Cisco made a return appearance. Peter Bourke from Westfield Australia was expected to feature but failed to show. Ross Forgione, the CIO from Johnson Winter and Slattery filled in for Bendigo Health’s CIO Bruce Winzar.

One might wonder why all this energy is expended when there’s not much new to say, but the justification always boils down to one thing: continuity.

The overall theme for this year’s Cisco Live was that the big trends remain the same and things are just... progressing. With that in mind, here are some of the interesting snippets from the hour-long forum that merit a closer look.

Is there such a thing as too much cyber security policy?

After the recent string of high profile hacks, it’s no surprise that cyber security was on the top of the agenda for the forum. However, just as the conversation on cyber security was chugging along, Johnson Winter and Slattery’s Forgione raised an interesting point, saying that his office has actually started cutting down on cyber security policies.

It’s an unusual point for a CIO of a law firm to raise given that information protection is paramount in the industry. Lawyers are expected (and can be disbarred) for failing to keep confidential information out of the public domain.

But Forgoine said that an initial review of the firm’s cyber-security policies revealed that they were too vast and too specific, making them too hard to follow, monitor and maintain.

“What you want to explain, is what acceptable behaviour is rather than outline what they should be doing,” Forgoine said.

He added that this helps break down the “barrier” between IT’s efforts to protect a company’s data and the rest of the employees desire to use any device (regardless of the risks) at work.

Data scientist - just a sexy job title? 

Big data is the latest buzzword sweeping the CIO circuit and the trend of “instant wisdom” (analytics) raised some curious points on what it actually means to be a data scientist.

With data scientists in high demand, Tatt’s CIO Maw said that that calling yourself a data scientist today simply means having the right to add a few extra zeroes to the pay check.

However, Cisco’s Gopalratnam doesn’t quite see it that way saying that while being a data scientist is a “sexy title”, it’s a position that’s earned on the back of a lot of hard work.

“It’s a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work, I mean people don’t become data scientist overnight,” Gopalratnam said.

“You really need to have a different way of solving problems... That’s why you don’t see enough of that skill set today.”

Maw added, however, that as data scientists become the norm, companies really need to ensure the accuracy of their data to get the most out of them.

In that regard, Maw said that his company didn’t really have any problem.

“One of the more envious parts of my position is that people want to self-cleanse their own data,” he said.

“They ring up and they say whether they’ve changed address, changed mobile phones or just broken up with the misses, because if they win $10 million they want us to find them.”

The evolving role of the CIO - and their staff

Many acronyms have emerged when talking about the future role of the chief information officer.

Gartner’s Mark McDonald recently pointed out another two, CPO (chief process officer) and CDO (chief digital officer). So what did the CIO panel have to say about the surfeit of three letter job titles flying around the place?

Gopalratnam pointed out that his job should be renamed the CFO.

“And the F doesn't stand for financial, it stands for flexibility,” he said.

With so much happening in so many directions, Gopalratnam says that CIO’s need to react and adapt to change quickly, as the ones that are “inflexible as hell” won’t survive.

Meanwhile, Maw said his job should be renamed the chief legal officer due to the minefield companies will soon have to navigate in regards to emerging technologies and existing laws.

When it comes to staff, Gopalratnam says that he’ll be looking for “athletes”.

“By athletes, I mean people who are nimble and can react quickly. Those who are faster than others,” he said.

“It would be foolish to favour a particular skill set due the rapid changing nature of technology.”

Maw agreed adding that “the kind of person you want is one that does not say I am an XYX”.

“I want people who will say if there is an emerging technology, ‘I’ll be part of it, I’ll work with it.’”