c What have Apple, Amazon and Uber done for the modern CIO?
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Telefonica CIO: what Apple, Amazon and Uber did for the modern CIO

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Gabri Solera

Consumer grade simplicity has come to rule the enterprise. It has also changed the role of the CIO.

We will look back on this era and thank organizations like Amazon, Apple and Uber for altering our digital expectations.

They started an irreversible trend to virtualize the physical and have worked tirelessly to prove that intuitive, elegant and real-time customer-centric offerings enhance our lives for the better.

This ‘consumer-grade simplicity,’ we ubiquitously expect now, permeates the enterprise space, and has changed the role of the CIO forever.

Historically the CIO was exclusively seen as the back office conduit between businesses and technology.

The role now, almost in poetic unison with the business ecosystem, is shifting to become a combination of harnessing and exploiting information flow inside and outside of the Enterprise, with that of a digital educator.

This provides the opportunity for IT leaders to take a more strategic view on the way technology can be leveraged and exploited to create new business opportunities, new business models or simply better businesses.

CIOs that adapt to the new role will likely be handed the keys to lead transformational, company change. Central to that challenge will remain, the uncanny knack for the demystification of complex technological process and translation to the language of the business.

Don’t consider this an added value or useful skill, this could be the number one differentiator for you as an IT leader.

The ability to demystify and communicate a clear path to a digital future for a business will set you apart as it is this skill that, more than anything, helps organizations understand the ‘Why, When, What and How of digital transformation’.

What a great time to be a CIO. If you can adapt to this new world, your remit is set for unprecedented change. Your influence and impact can really drive the business forward, and with it, your value to the business will transform.

You can expect to wave goodbye to the back office, where you will have spent your time using IT to record and manage operations.

Whilst you will continue to deliver what is needed here, you will be swapping your attention to the front office.

Here, information that drives insight will be your currency. After all, every corporation is digitizing their assets so they can access this 21st century equivalent of oil before they get disrupted by others.

Banks for example have had to change dramatically as a result of numerous value chain disruptions. No longer is their innate focus around giving, taking and receiving physical money, instead, their business has become about managing information, and currency information flow.

We all see examples of industries flipping to become more digital every day; travel, transport, health, it doesn’t matter which business you are a part of, all is heading in the same direction.

Digitalization is virtualization. It involves taking something that was once physical and providing it as a virtual service using data to drive the customer experience to the consumer grade simplicity.

My industry and region is another under profound disruption.

European CSPs unfortunately learnt this the hard way with massive disruption and a turbulent macro-economic climate over the course of the last few years.

The telco ecosystem was being ravaged by change and a whole host of over-the-top (OTT) players were bursting onto the scene.

Their simple, virtual and disruptive business model put the legacy business model that had made the leaders of our industry so wildly successful, under threat.

As with many large corporations, we had tried many large change projects that had failed for the ‘normal’ reasons.

And we had been left with an aversion to long running and structural business change programmes that became stuck in our corporate ‘muscle memory’.

Looking back, I am pleased we were brave enough to confront these failures.

We quickly realized that we hadn’t taken our opportunities to engage in company wide digital transformation, preferring instead smaller, incremental changes that were easily copied and didn’t fundamentally change our business.

Ironically, the changes actually slowed down innovation.

Telefonica’s change

We started with a simplification of the problem.

I decided to write myth-busting papers on the role, purpose and problem of IT within our business and we shared them internally but widely.

The topics covered looked at the usual suspects of; IT is too slow, IT is too expensive, IT doesn’t make the best use of data.

The papers offered a view that took these arguments apart, one by one, ensuring they were written in a business-centric way that was easy to understand. As I did this, one word was used more often than anything else and that word was ‘business.’

The story was simple. The way forward was to transform and enable our business with brilliant IT.

We are well into the overall journey, have radically simplified our legacy IT estate, and are running those business transformations in almost all of our 20 markets.

The earliest adopters are showing real business value from the changes, and we now spend the significant majority of our Capex on pure transformation every year. The role of IT has really transformed in our business.

There is still a long road to travel but we are beating expectations and transforming a huge global corporation that many felt couldn’t be changed.

From the CIO role, I am able to both lead a great technology team to enable that change and also play the role of a digital change agent.

I am sure that as an Englishman in a proudly Spanish and Latin business, this has helped me catalyze change.

Particularly as I can always choose to view the business as an outsider, being as objective as I need to be without the corporate muscle memory Telefonica used to have.

However, it takes bold leadership from the very top to transform large and traditional corporations.

We have that bold leadership that identified and connected a small group of senior leaders who act as the change agents in and across the business.

Change agents in any organization need others to work with, be inspired by and rely on.

Finding those like-minded people, those ‘points of light’ and drawing them together in an organization is critical to the progress and success of any transformation and has been the case in our business.

Linking change agents together should be the priority for all change leaders as this is how you make change happen and keep momentum.