When Thierry Souche, Group CIO, Orange, had a conversation with a new recruit to the telco’s IT team recently, he told him: “I’m not your boss. I’m your godfather – it’s far worse.”
That got a laugh from the audience at one of Tuesday’s CXO keynote panels here at Digital Transformation World, but joking aside, the role of the CIO is changing significantly within communications service providers (CSPs) as the companies embrace digital transformation. IT is becoming more influential. Souche said, for example, that Orange Group IT is wielding more influence within all its operating companies (Orange provides fixed and mobile services in 29 countries).
“We are working together as a community, whereas previously we were a much more siloed, structured organization,” Souche said. “I’m trying to make sure the CIO community behaves properly and is coordinated to enforce a little bit of sanity in this vibrant world. But at the same time, it’s all about trust and making sure collaboration in the right spirit and the right mindset is grown in every team – not just mine but in each of the CEO’s team – so that we set the basis for agility, for DevOps, etc.”
Other CXOs agreed. Speaking in a recorded video because she was unable to attend the event in Nice, Harmeen Mehta, Group CIO, Bharti Airtel, kicked off the panel, saying: “The CIO must act more as a partner to understand the business… Only then can you go about building the technology solutions that enable the simplification of processes.
“One of the things that has really changed is the conversations we are having,” she added. “The business has more complex problems, and what starts as a thought ends as a technology solution. This is great but at the same time the pressure to deliver and perform has never been greater.”
Changing from follower to leader
At Liberty Global, Group CIO Veenod Kurup has noticed a distinct change in the relationship between IT and the rest of the business in that the business is looking for IT to communicate the technology strategy first.
“It’s a point of stress – this is not a happy place necessarily,” he said. “In the past, business-oriented groups have had ideas about what they want to do and then they come to us… Now, they want to know what technology can bring to the table and then they’ll work on the business plan.
“So there’s a big gap here. It’s a phenomenon that’s been happening in the last year and it’s an uncomfortable place for IT. We’re not used to having to lead in that way. We have been more in the order-taker business. “
Telus CTO Ibrahim Gideon has experienced this as well.
“I’ve come to IT through the CTO route – we built the network and said they will come – but it has to be collaborative. Instead of waiting for people in the business to say I need these five things, if we see that these five things are required, why the hell do we need to wait for somebody to write them down on a piece of paper?”
From Mehta’s perspective, the business has always embraced technology, but the difference now is that the problems are larger and more complex.
“The partnership between product and engineering is also getting deeper. The way of approaching problems is getting far more technical. This is the interesting part: They are thinking about how technology can solve problems for them.”
She adds: “We are stretching a lot more, straining every muscle and every nerve, every brain cell. We’re trying to be more bold. But we aren’t afraid of failures – we just dust ourselves off, learn from our mistakes and then move on. As problems get more complex, this is more important and this is what really brings product, business and engineering together. This is the tripod of success in our industry. When all three of these areas come together in an organization, that’s what creates magic.”
Generalists are as good as dead
Mehta and other panelists noted that IT is also becoming increasingly specialized and that the days of “generalist” employees are numbered, which means CSPs will have to consider how to retrain people for new roles, and employees will have to take it upon themselves to learn new skills as well.
“The era of generalists is absolutely dead,” Mehta said. “We’re living in a world of specialism and each and every person needs to create a specialism for themselves and that’s where we invest a lot in training people.”
Kurup agreed: “We have to have much better knowledge about the technology assets, where it’s going, how it’s going to be connected and how it’s relevant to the consumers we’re serving.”
Gedeon added that it’s important for employees to realize they must change. He believes the “middle class” employees in IT organizations, for example, tier 2 and 3 directors, will disappear. Ultimately, the future of CSPs lies in software, the panel agreed.
“In order to be able to efficiently collaborate with an ecosystem of service providers and solution providers, we need to code more and do things ourselves,” Souche said. “And it’s not just developers who should code.”
He related a story about his human resources director and other Orange Group directors in Europe who went through a workshop that resulted in a production deployment of a multisite geo-redundant Cassandra cluster.
“I probably have the only HRD in the world who knows how to deploy a Cassandra cluster, but at least when she comes to an engineer to discuss hardware and software evolution and technology she gets what it is.”