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Former Royal Mail CIO on how the role should work with its C-level counterparts

developments in workplace technology developments in workplace technology

How exactly, do you work with your C-Suite counterparts? And which are the relationships that should be championed?

For years, the CIO has had to contend with numerous studies, research and questions about how they will remain relevant in an area of the business that is constantly changing. From time to time, a suggestion is made that a new role, such as a Chief Digital Officer or a Chief Data Officer is coming to take over all things technology.

But Catherine Doran, the former CIO of the Royal Mail, says that while many could look at these new roles “in ways which are in conflict with each other”, her experience doesn’t reflect that.

At the Royal Mail, Doran had a Chief Digital Officer who was responsible for how the business should be digitized amongst modern developments in workplace technology.

“He had a bunch of people working for him, but he didn’t build the technologies; in fact my people and his people worked together, doing all of the agile work, the sprints, testing and releasing as an integrated team,” she explains

“Because the IT folk have a set of skills and the business folk have a set of skills, together they can come together and do something pretty special,” she adds.

Similarly, the company had someone who was in charge of data, with a team of people working for him.

“The data scientists – the people who build the single view of the customer, which was a big delivery for us, were a part of the IT function, and again they worked collectively [with us],” Doran says.

Doran suggests that those C-level executives who worry about others encroaching on their territory are “probably not busy enough”.

“There is actually enough to be done in business, particularly for large corporations that inevitably have complex application landscapes – there is plenty for people to be busy with and help the company with in a significant way,” she says.

However, Doran is sympathetic to those CIOs who work in companies where ‘Shadow IT’ is prominent.

“Companies where you may have a CDO who says ‘I’m not going to IT [for anything I need], I don’t like them, I’ll get my own people’, that can cause a problem”.

This isn’t merely a problem between two executives or two teams – it can have huge detrimental effect on the organization as a whole.

“Any sizeable organization’s entire IT application and infrastructure is almost like a patchwork quilt; so if [the CDO] builds something here, then it’s unlikely that can be entirely independent of all the finance, billing, back office systems,” Doran states.

“If you don’t think about it in totality from the outset then you have a problem with how you integrate [that technology],” she adds.

Collaborating with the CFO and CMO

While the Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Officer roles are relatively new, the CMO and CFO functions have been in place for years. Doran suggests that not much has changed in the relationship between the CIO and those two roles in the last five years. However, she emphasizes the importance of the relationship she has had with the CFO in being able to ensure that the right investment is made on technology to bring the organization forward.

“It’s difficult to see how businesses of any scale could remain in business without technology being available, that includes all the finances – so my experience over the last two or three jobs I’ve had is, that the CFO is actually my pal, because if I need to do something, I go and talk to them and explain why,” she says, adding that those CIOs who want to procure a new solution or make an investment on the whim are likely to have a hard time.

“If you’re a serious person, and you have a mutually respective relationship then they’ll listen,” she says.

As for the CMO, Doran believes that the conversation has changed, but the interaction between the two roles have not.

“The conversation has changed because of the mix of different channels and how you think about getting something to market and then publicizing it, this is all very different to 15 years ago,” she says.

And while working with other C-level executives within the organization is an important part of the role, Doran suggests that one of the skills that is becoming most critical is the ability to work with third parties.

“The explosion of technology and further developments in workplace technology means there is a lot of inspiration to bring things together and make sure they all work, and learning how to work with multiple third parties and getting all of those different groups of people aligned on the end goal, which is to deliver that product, [is a skill that CIOs need],” she says.

But Doran says that unlike other skills, it isn’t one that people can just know how to do, it requires a steep learning curve.

“You can’t decide ‘I’m going to be really good at this’, you need to do it with the people with whom you’re working… it really is a technical skill because these arrangements are contractual and if you don’t do it right you don’t get what the business needs and everyone spends their time on litigation”.

Another crucial skill, Doran states, is keeping up to date with new developments in workplace technology – including areas such as virtualization.

“The CIO won’t necessarily be the one carrying out the project, but they have to know what the moves are, both in terms of the technology advances but also in terms of how they’re deployed, because otherwise the organization could be doing something that was done 12 years ago,” she says.

Both the ability to work with third parties, and keep up with technical advances and developments in workplace technology aren’t just crucial for the CIO; Doran suggests that the CIO also needs the right staff which can help with these areas, particularly as the CIO is kept busy working with other parts of the business.

“A CIO has certainly got to equip themselves with people within the business that are scanning the horizon and working with third party suppliers to understand what’s out there so they can keep current with this explosion of capabilities,” she says.

“There isn’t a company in the world that can do it all, but knowing what the nuggets are that can actually help your business will drive it forward,” she concludes.