technology chiefsInterview with Chris Gabriel
Former CDO of Logicalis and now CDO at TechPulse Group
What are the top 3 priorities in your role?
1. The most important conversation I’m having at the moment is the modernisation of IT to run in a digital world – getting the right platforms, skills, people and organisation for digital transformation.
2. Automation – without automation we can’t deliver the scale and pace needed, the IT function is perhaps the least automated business function in many organisations and so there is a lot to do but massive gains to be made if the CIO can master automation. Security automation is a major priority for all us in the next few years
3. IoT – At Logicalis we had a significant IoT business in South America and growing more recently in Europe – looking at smart agriculture, smart manufacturing, and city services management etc. But most customers weren’t looking for disrupting their existing business models, but improving them, making them more efficient, making ‘digital interventions’ in a system, improving what they have, and taking a systems thinking approach. We shouldn’t keep talking about connected fridges and how much lettuce we don’t have – but how we can use IoT to produce more lettuce, reduce waste, improve crop yields, harvests and transportation.
Which previous role had the biggest impact on your career?
When I was at Cabletron our CTO Mike Skubich had a big impact on me, I was in my early 20’s at the time and I learnt the art of storytelling from him. I’d always been ok with presenting, in fact my first public presentation was to Margaret Thatcher at my technology college in Wales at 17! But the art of storytelling which I learnt from listening to Mike at conferences was something I’ve been able to take on through my career and add my own slant too.
The converse to this and another really important impact was when I was at SCC many years ago now and presenting at a big conference to 200 sales people. I assumed I knew what would make a sales guy excited – offering them a £45 freebie wasn’t it as it turns out – and I died a horrible death on the stage and learnt an important lesson! Never assume you know what is important to the people you’re talking to, never assume that what you think is important is what your audience will think is important.
How do you see the role of the Technology Leader changing?
I think it is to become The Story Teller in Chief in the future. At a Forrester event, some years ago I picked up on some research talking about one function and capability that the IT function very rarely has, and that is Communications and Marketing. I believe that a CIO or CTO needs to be able to tell great stories when trying to take the business forward, or setting out a Digital transformation or technology story that is supported by a strategy.
This is vital at a time when one dynamic in the industry is the amount of money startups and new cloud services companies are investing in marketing and communications, using it to target business leaders and engaging directly with the business and what it spends on digital and IT. There are so many surveys saying spend is moving from IT to Line of Business because IT cannot keep up – but I am not so sure this is the case. I think the stories LOBs are hearing from vendors are just more compelling than the CIO is telling – and the CIO needs to move into this space through compelling storytelling and communications.
What are the 3 most important issues confronting the technology industry?
1. Disconnect between IT and the business – Coming from the false assumptions/perceptions (e.g. role of IT in the business, or misleading tech stories such as the ‘connected fridges’) – my job, and in fact all of our jobs in the channel is to help CIO’s make the transition to digital and help the CIO think how they can reconfigure what they do, and how the whole ecosystem is going to play out over the coming years. I think the gap is narrower than people think, its just expedient for many to make it look like a gulf. We all need to help modernise IT and help close the gaps and cracks appearing between them and their business colleagues.
2. Cyber security – we need to hold our nerve for a few years, things will get worse before they get better – the speed of digital change means its difficult to keep on top off of the cyber security threats appearing just as fast. We need to be proactive and positive. There is a big danger that legislator and governments over manage and regulate businesses away from innovation, especially in Europe where the culture is more risk adverse. It’s different in other parts of the world where they are more prepared to look at and go after the benefits they can achieve and not be ignore the data privacy issues but manage them alongside the gains of digital benefits. So, I would urge we go on a more positive foot and consider risks against the benefits not just think about the dark and stark warnings. No need to take risks with cyber security or people’s data – but we also need to take risks in digital to improve society, education, productivity in business etc.
3. Skills education – we need more industry trained people that are also given embed technology skills. I am not sure we need more generic coders – but doctors, vets, engineers, scientists, who can code. My fear is other countries will become smarter than we are in UK at embedding digital into industry, not just trying to create a digital industry. We need a continuing Government focus on this – no one puts their hand up and say they want to be in IT so how do we get people to be more engaged in our digital future? Make digital part of everything.
What 3 technology trends are you most excited about and why?
1. Automation – this is going to be the fundamental building block of the future of IT and digital. We simply cannot build and operate the experiences consumers or citizens expect without automation, and we cannot hope to operate any IT system in the future without varying and ever more aggressive degrees of automation. I would actually put automation ahead of AI in terms of impact in the coming few years.
2. Open Source – this has been mooching around the IT industry for ages of course, but, Open Source movements are now appearing across every industry, and my adage is – if you are in business, somebody is trying to do what you do for free – and share it with everybody on the planet. Of course, nothing is ever free – but, Open I think is creating massive innovation and disruption that usually trickles down into mainstream products for the masses – or industrialised products for business.
3. Cyber Security – but not in a good way. I am excited to see if we can hold our nerves over the next 2-3 years and continue to drive digital in the face of ever mounting threats and ever more publicised disruption to business and government. I think the industry is now stepping up more than ever with massive investments from companies like Cisco, taking the issue of security more mainstream and into the boardroom. But I think it is going to be testing times for all of us – consumers, citizens, businesses and regulators to ensure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water when things go wrong, but also that we don’t let ourselves be kidded into thinking we are at the mercy of the attackers or the security agencies. Every business can do something – and should.
What product or company is having the biggest impact?
One organization that has really fascinated me is Open Bionics down in Bristol, a former journalist and engineer looked at the problem of children losing limbs in war torn areas or through disease. They looked at the cost of these advanced replacement limbs as prohibitive and they innovated a solution using open source and 3D printing. Everybody should take a look at what these people are doing to change lives using off the shelf digital technologies. They are truly inspiring. Now with my commercial hat on, if I’m the company producing the expensive £20k limbs then I should also be taking note of the impact of movements like Open Bionics. At TechPulse Group we are doing a lot of work in opening up UK and European markets to innovative tech health business, so this mash-up of open, digital, commercial is going to be a fascinating area in the coming years. But, all CIO’s and businesses should have an Open team in my view – the Open movement is a really vital part of the digital economy.
What mobile app do you use every day?
Twitter is the best news source in the world to get an aggregated view of what is going on. Best advice is to follow your customers and follow the influential people. Oh and never trend on it yourself 😊
What 3 skills should an aspiring Technology Leader look to develop?
1. Story telling
These are of course on top of the core skills to evaluate technology, lead an IT team and have IT practice expertise. A great role model for these skills was Paul Coby from British Airways – he always put the story across so well.
Where do you look for trusted technology information & inspiration?
Evan Kirstel – technology a Digital thought leader and communicator. His twitter feed is a goldmine.
What books should someone looking to get on in their technology career read?
My favourite book that I have read recently is Scenario Planning by Gill Ringland. I think this is critical in trying to understand uncertain futures which is something we are always having to deal with in the technology world
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