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CIO transformation to COO and beyond?

Chee-Sing Chan | Oct. 12, 2011
Polish-born and Australia-bred, Cathay Pacific's CIO Tomasz Smaczny has a clear sense of where IT is heading --having written papers on IT's changing relationship with the business plus over 25 years of experience in retail and finance.

Industry factors can affect the role, while geography can also be a factor given the cultural differences. As for the individual, much depends on the commercial acumen, business orientation and change management skills of the individual. If they have a lot of commercial sense then they will naturally tend towards issues of the business rather than only technology and frame their challenges in terms of cost, revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction.

In my view, the CIO can't simply go to the CEO and recommend a change. It must come from a position of credibility. The question CIOs must ask themselves is: "What can I do to help improve the business?". That's what I'm focused on day-in-day-out.

CWHK: So how do CIOs take the next step?

TS: There's genuine potential for CIOs to become the COO in the organization. Traditional COOs have come from a background of being in charge of a key process -- say check processing, managing transaction systems or call centers, which are very specific to a process or a certain business unit. This actually isn't as broad as the view that today's CIOs have.

CIOs today are in a better position to play the role of a transformation agent.

A good example of this happening is Ralph Norris, who is the very successful CEO at Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). He started as a CIO at Auckland Savings Bank (ASB) and eventually became COO and then was appointed into the role of the CEO of ASB, and subsequently CBA. He is a great example of what is possible.

That's a massive progression for someone with a technology background. That would not be common within many industries and within banking it was unheard of at the time. Today, I believe, that progression is more possible in industries outside of technology companies. Many more ex-CIOs take seats at the board level as IT becomes an important contributor to the profitability of businesses.

And if you look at the Norris example, again he is not a pure technologist, he's very much a commercially-minded person with a technology background. This is what I advocate and talk a lot about in many forums. Moving the CIO role to be more like the COO, not so much moving towards becoming a CEO but becoming a "chief transformation officer" to support and work with the CEO.

CWHK: So what happens with IT? The tech guys move to managing operations?

TS: If one accepts the CIO undertaking the role of a COO, then you need to view IT in a completely different manner. You still have a center of excellence that looks after the traditional functions like IT Operations but in all likelihood you have someone else manage that for you. Instead you move your team up the value chain and create teams to look after specific end-to-end operations like supply chain, or core transaction banking or customer service operations etc.


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