Beyond Keeping the Lights On: Why CIOs Need to Think Like Investors

Beyond Keeping the Lights On: Why CIOs Need to Think Like Investors

As the organisational importance of technology and digital rises to intersect all operations, the role of the CIO is evolving in tandem. La Fosse interviewed Christine Ashton, Global CDO at SAP and judge on the CIO 100 Judging Panel, for her perspective on how today’s CIO can adopt the acumen of an investor to optimise technology’s business value.

Christine AshtonChristine has occupied Global CIO/CTO/SVP digital roles for 20 years, alongside several high-profile NED engagements. You’ll find her name on virtually every list of the industry’s most prestigious players, from the CIO 100 – which she’s been listed on every year since the award began – to the UK Tech Awards, to the Most Influential Women in IT. Christine has a reputation for driving sustainable innovative change at scale, and her impressive track record of engagement spans diverse sectors: from CIO at Phones 4 U, multiple roles at BP, CTO at Transport for London, CIO at BG Group and SVP at Thomson Reuters. She’s also served as a Board Member of the UK Home Office and on the Strategic Panel for the Chartered Institute of IT. In addition to her role as Global CDO at SAP, she is currently is an independent NED for the NPSO (New Payments System Operator) and Chair of CIO WaterCooler Live!.

Christine shared her insights on the changing role of the CIO with Chris Chandler, Head of Executive Search at Technology and Digital Recruiter La Fosse Associates. 

Could CIOs drive faster business growth by managing their tech-stack with the mindset of a Private Equity Executive?

The role of the CIO is changing. Companies are looking to re-invent their products and services for the digital world, seeking to accelerate growth by better leveraging customer, usage, product and ‘availability to promise’ data in real time.

For many companies, it is now critical that the CIO and their teams have the business acumen to drive strategy through technology adoption and accelerate their business’s transition into new services, products and markets. Rather than being driven by cost alone, IT leaders need to proactively lead change and innovation by regarding technology assets as crucial opportunities for value-creation.

The key to this is an adjustment of outlook. In the same way that a Private Equity professional approaches their investment portfolio, CIOs should segment their technology stacks according to whether they can deliver the growth and new capabilities the business will need to execute strategy. Their decisions should be driven by enterprise value creation, be that improved EBITDA, ability to surpass the competition or achieve accelerated growth ambitions.

If as a CIO you audited your technology according to how quickly it inhibits or creates value for the enterprise, how much opportunity would there be in your ‘digital portfolio’?

• Which technologies are worth investing more in and deploying further? This could be because they promote standardisation or eliminate manual activity e.g. compliance reporting.

• Which parts of your technology stack have run their course in terms of the possible value-add to your company, so you may need to call time on exiting the investment?

• Where are the opportunities for acquiring technology and new capabilities that could improve your current rates of return in terms of growing a product or service?

• And crucially – which technologies would you start to make bets on, because they have the capacity to emerge as challengers in your industry and erode the way you currently make a profit?

As a CIO, some of the mindset shifts you might make to increase business value through tech:

1. Operations: From operating IT to standardising business operations 2. Investment: From owning software to leveraging SaaS and technology ecosystems3. People: From managing teams to growing talents
4. Revenue: From receiving CFO tasks to jointly delivering successful business deals
5. Innovation: From keeping the lights on to using new technology to deliver business differentiation
6. Architecture: From centralised to multi-tier to support rapid growth through acquisitions

Today’s CIOs need a strong vision for their company’s future targeted strategies for the ways in which technology can stimulate value creation.

In order to stay competitive in quickly developing markets, it’s not enough to maintain overly centralised or static architectures which depend on a continuous string of compliance and security fixes – and consume most of the budget – just to stay operable.

If you start the process to commodify parts of your technology stack and begin to pursue value rather than trying to fight cost, then you will feel the benefits sooner – as will your company’s EBITDA.


Christine Ashton, Group CDO of SAP

Christine Ashton | LinkedIn 

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