Over the last decade the proliferation of consumer technology has had an ancillary effect on enterprise IT and its respective executives, according to Pure Storage CIO Cathy Southwick. 

While consumer tech has highlighted the value of technology throughout an organisation it has brought with it new expectations, creating new pressure for information chiefs and adding another piece to the CIO juggling act.

No longer focused on enablement and support, modern IT teams are now “strategic partners”, Southwick says.

“Taking a step back, you can see that the IT department has moved from a time period where it was solely about enablement for the business to now being focused on becoming a strategic partner. Our actions are now centred on helping each business unit deliver the best outcomes for customers and employees.”

Southwick argues the customer focus – which guides decisions at her organisation, leading enterprise flash vendor Pure Storage – is not at odds with shareholder return.

“Some companies have strategies solely focused on shareholder return but at the end of the day, I believe that if your technology is good, and your customers and employees are happy, you’ll deliver on key business priorities and meet (if not exceed) shareholder expectations.”

Impact of consumer technology

One of the key drivers in the shifting role of the CIO has been consumer technology, according to Southwick.

“We’ve seen a significant shift in those [last] 10-12 years,” Southwick told Which-50, “where now everybody is able to consume technology in a range of different ways – via mobile, in the office, on the beach – wherever you’re at. 

Pure Storage CIO Cathy Southwick. Supplied.

“In that time, expectations have become that much higher and the role of CIO has had to evolve to balance very specific business demands with the capabilities of business partners. It’s now about bridging those two groups – IT and business partners – to encourage the business to think more about technology and the opportunities it can bring.”

The rapid rate of technology change and adoption today is a far cry from the early 2000s, according to the Pure Storage CIO.

“IT departments didn’t have technologies that advanced as quickly, and use cases evolved slower, part of which was because the business community’s technical capabilities were fewer and they had less access to technology on a day-to-day basis.” 

According to Southwick, IT departments today do less championing of technology in general and are more focused on enabling business outcomes for various stakeholders, often guided by customer outcomes.

Department of no

While the new role for CIOs helps shed the traditional view of IT as  “the department of no”, Southwick says there will always be a role for prioritising technology investment.

“You want an IT organisation that has some ability to help prioritise that spend and with that comes a little bit of the ‘no’. Just because I could give everyone in my organisation a tablet, a mobile and a laptop doesn’t mean I probably should … IT is sometimes given that bad rap about saying ‘no’ but it’s really about helping the business to prioritise and balance its investments so that it’s not so over indexed in investing that it can’t afford to maintain it.”

Southwick says CIOs should be mindful of becoming enamoured with the shiny new projects, even if the initial investment is low.

“Just because you can technically do something very cool and easily, doesn’t mean you should. There’s a cost to maintain, support and upgrade it, and resolve issues, and that means that’s people and time.”

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