If we assume it is just a tenure issue, then the average tenure of the four CIO’s in question, and that is not to mention others, i.e. Newscorp, Qantas, Leighton Contractor NBNco etc. was less than 4 years. If you take out Michael Harte as a skew, you are looking at less than 2.5 years.

Since the GFC, many companies had their CIOs focus on taking costs out of the business, smart-sourcing and efficiency. The appetite for risk has been low. Hence the rise of the ‘steady eddies’, the safe pair of hands, or as a colleague of mine mischievously and a little unfairly describes, “male, stale and pale brigade”. We have seen a rise in the number of CIOs with backgrounds dominated in finance, commercial or infrastructure. We are now well and truly in the digital era, companies have to  focus on digital enablement, speed, innovation as well as providing the secure, reliable, efficient and stable platforms of yester year. This bi-modal requirement is putting increasing pressure and visibility on CIOs, their ability to adapt; their performance has far greater impact and scrutiny than it was 3 years ago let alone 10.  Few CIOs seem to be able to cover both sides of the equation.  So does this explain the current spate of CIO change at the top end of Australia’s listed companies?

Everyone will have an opinion and if you whittle down the facts, then there will be many alternative scenarios and explanations, but the point remains that the CIO’s in question have moved on a created opportunity.

I for one always like to look forward and not backward – so if this is the perfect storm, then what do our top tier organisations need to do to attract the right leaders and what credentials do CIO’s need to have to not only fill the current role, but to add real measurable value to the future operating model and profitability of their companies.  Addressing the attraction aspects first, not dissimilar from other C level hires, it comes down to a small number of key parameters: Firstly, who is the hiring manager, what is their view of the business strategy, the board and the role of the CIO at a blue sky level? Secondly,  if transformation change and growth is on the agenda and this is a critical component of the overall business strategy, then you have the  attention of candidates. Thirdly, where is the company placed in relation to the competitive landscape and does it have the appetite to drive competitive advantage through  innovative technology solutions? 

Finally, how will the organisation support and provide an environment where hiring a creative, an innovator, a maverick will bear fruit?

Looking at the credentials side leadership is the key and as a function, historically, the CIO has not passed this test. The good news is that the last 3 years has forced the CIO to step up. Simultaneously, complex enterprise organisations have been forced to elevate the role and importance of the CIO.  In a slightly different language, these companies need people who are comfortable in their own skin, are able to build strong robust business cases that talk to the enterprise strategy and not solely focus on Technology.  At the end of the day, we are looking to attract a member of the leadership team, so we should focus on their contribution as a leader not just as a functional head!

Companies are evolving rapidly and embracing new customer centric/digital strategies and operating models, For the CIO in the midst of this change, domain expertise becomes less important. My advice is therefore to focus on proven technology/business leaders with a broad portfolio of skills, both in relation to industry experience and diversity (Geographical, cultural and personal). To be globally competitive, Australian companies need CIO’s with vision, leadership, courage and conviction. Australia and Australian companies have a great deal to offer, CBA stepped out and hired Michael and look what he has achieved.

Go hire an outspoken, digital rock star or call me and I’ll find one for you!

Paul Rush is a Partner in Odgers Berndtson's Sydney office where he leads the CIO/CTO/CDO practice in Asia Pacific.




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