The technology industry is made up of just 26% women, compared to a nearly equal split at 49% across the total workforce. Most notably, that number hasn’t done much besides decrease over the past 30 years, hovering around the same percentage and dipping slightly in recent years.

But the lack of women in tech is a deeper issue that stems all the way back to childhood — with gender stereotypes that have historically, and inaccurately, suggested that women and girls are less skilled at math, science, and technology. Unfortunately, that persistent bias has grown into a self-fulfilling prophecy over the years, creating a systemic issue where girls and women aren’t well represented in STEM, and therefore don’t feel empowered or encouraged to pursue it as a career path.

“For a certain period of time in your life when you’re in middle school, your interest in STEM as a girl or as a non-binary learner can be impacted by the lack of representation that you see. You can have a spark, or you can have an interest, but if you don’t see yourself represented, you will not necessarily start taking those courses for high school, which will in fact impact your ability to participate in post-secondary, which will impact your ability to get a career in STEM later in your life,” says Rebecca Hazell, interim executive director of Hackergal.

To close the gender gap for women in STEM careers, girls need to be encouraged to maintain an interest in STEM during elementary, middle, and high school. And that’s the core of Hackergal’s mission — to create opportunities for young girls to engage with STEM education and to consider STEM careers as a potential option.

Fostering the talent pipeline in middle school

Hackergal works with middle school and high school aged girls, as well as nonbinary students, directly through educators and school districts. Learners connect with Hackergal through classrooms, community centers, homeschooling programs, summer school, hackathon events, and coding clubs across Canada. And each year, Hackergal hosts a hackathon event at the end of the school year for kids participating in coding clubs.

The hackathons and coding clubs are targeted at grades six to nine, while the Hackergal Ambassador program is a highly competitive program for high schoolers who have aged out of Hackergal’s middle school coding and hackathon programs.

Hackergal uses a “teach the teacher” model, in which Hackergal connects with teachers, school boards, and school districts across Canada to directly train educators and provide them with information on the Hackergal Hub, Hazell says. The Hub enables teachers to bring a full coding curriculum to students that they can easily integrate into their lesson plans.

“Whether [kids learn] during classroom time, or it’s an extracurricular, they create that safe space where the girls can learn, make mistakes, and raise their hand with confidence and feel comfortable with that,” says Hazell, who adds that a lot of educators express nervousness about implementing a coding club, especially when they have no experience with coding themselves. But Hackergal’s approach aims to empower any educator to expanding their students’ access to coding education, regardless of the teacher’s own programming experience.

Utilizing a platform called Lynx, which originated in Canada and is developed in English and French, Hackergal provides educational programming across the country for students and teachers. The team at Hackergal has been intentional about making its curriculum available to students and teachers in any situation — whether they’re homeschooled or reside in rural areas of Canada, and regardless of language.

“We know that there are certain populations who need our programming a lot and they need the support. They need the community, they need the connection, and the competence-building for their youth. And we’re more than happy to keep growing our program in the interest of serving them better,” says Hazell.

Empowering a future generation of workers

Hackergal’s current generation of learners is highly motivated to have a social impact in their work, says Hazell, adding that this is reflected in each year’s hackathon theme. Last year’s participants, for example, worked around the theme “coding together for our planet,” with a focus on sustainability and environmental issues, such as addressing pollution or developing innovative energy solutions.

“We are very connected to social impact as an organization. It guides everything that we do,” Hazell says. “Research shows that girls specifically are more connected to tech and STEM learning if there is a social impact that’s aligned with that.”

Encouraging students’ passions about social progress is part of Hackergal’s commitment, given that as a generation Hackergal learners will face “some of the biggest problems that this world has ever encountered” and will be among those responsible for finding solutions, Hazell says.

“The people who are using these skills that we’re training them on now are going to have careers that are directly involved in coming up with solutions, and trying to innovate, to make sure our planet is okay,” she adds.

The program also helps its learners establish impressive resumes right out of high school, with some Hackergal students starting up companies by grade 11. That motivation and commitment will help them to become top talent for organizations in the future.

“They’re very motivated in that respect, the teenagers who are in our program, and they have a lot to offer and see the bigger picture. They’re thinking about what they can do and how it will impact the world going forward and what they can do to positively impact the world,” says Hazell.

Getting involved

For companies that want to work with Hackergal, it’s something of a “boutique” experience, says Laurel Maule, development manager at Hackergal. Because the organizations doesn’t have a home-base for students or a main operation center where companies can donate time or resources, corporate sponsors and donors typically work directly with Hackergal to support the organization’s specific needs.

As more organizations focus on DEI, they’re turning to organizations like Hackergal to help solve the talent pipeline as early as possible. For these organizations, it’s can also be an early branding opportunity, as they can put their company name in front of the future workforce.

Maule says that organizations often reach out to ask how they can help expand the talent pipeline. Beyond financial donations, some volunteer an IT executive to speak at a hackathon or coding event, or to write a blog or record a video that might inspire the young learners. Or they might invite ambassador students to do a specialized coding camp at their offices or offer mentorship and advice to older students who are thinking about their careers.

For the learners, it’s an opportunity to start fostering a network early on. They’ll have experiences with a variety of organizations, professional connections throughout the industry, and unique guidance from technology leaders, all before they graduate high school.

“The sky’s kind of the limit on how CIOs want to be engaged and how companies and employees want to be engaged. Each partnership, organization, or company that we work with, brings its own special set of skills. We work closely with them to figure out how we can utilize and build that long-term partnership to support these girls throughout their learning process,” says Maule.

A sustainable support model

By keeping resources low, and by working with government funding and directly with school districts and boards, Hackergal has been able to maintain a free program that enables students to learn, no matter their circumstances.

“We work in a way that doesn’t draw down too much on our resources and allows us to have that creativity and that programming. And we are interested in growing and learning from what we do and trying to challenge ourselves to be as innovative as the kids need us to be, because that’s what we’re trying to share with them. We want to make sure that we’re providing the kind of programming that challenges, that keeps them excited,” says Hazell.

And those efforts are working, as girls are gaining confidence through the program. According to a survey of the latest hackathon’s participants, 97% said they felt more confident in their coding and digital skills after the hackathon, 96% said they were more interested in writing code, and 100% say they felt more knowledgeable.

“You really can’t get better statistics in that sense, especially from a survey that you put out to kids that age group. It was fantastic to see that feedback, and I think we’re going to keep trying to meet that high satisfaction rate amongst our learners,” says Hazell.

Future of Hackergal

For the future, Hackergal is working on developing a full mentorship program for investors that will involve “more interactive, longer-term mentorship programs,” to further support students, says Hazell.

The organization also seeks to continue offering the program for free, as many of the students who need this programming the most are the ones who can’t afford it, or who don’t have access to it, making equitable access a key to Hackergal’s mission.

“I don’t think that we could say with conviction that we were serving those who need us most if we were charging for the resources that we are delivering,” says Hazell.

Hackergal is also working to increase sponsorship opportunities. Last year, for the first time, Hackergal launched a scholarship program, awarding two ambassadors who had graduated from the adult program a $5,000 scholarship for tuition or other expenses, generously provided by Royal Bank of Canada.

Organizations seeking to build their own talent pipeline through coding and STEM camps are also looking to Hackergal for advice on how to start, and how to continue that support beyond just one or two events.

“I hear from some of our speakers, and they always say without fail, ‘I wish this program had been around when I was younger,’” says Hazell. Even if girls don’t end up in tech careers, the key is “feeling encouraged to try something that’s maybe a little bit scary or challenging,” and finding that motivation to “push through barriers and to keep going, feeling supported by a community,” says Hazell.

“Being able to partner with Hackergal — it’s kind of like you’re doing it for your younger self, especially if you’re a woman in leadership in tech,” Hazell says. “Partnering with Hackergal allows them to fulfill that wish or that deep-seated feeling of wanting to connect with that kid. And seeing that excitement, and some of the photos we have from our experiences, really makes me emotional because you see these kids, and they’re so excited to be a part of that community and that energy is special and it can have a bigger impact.”

Diversity and Inclusion

“You can never drive the car looking through the rearview mirror,” says Joe Locandro, CIO of Fletcher Building, one of Australasia’s largest building materials supplier. “As CIO, you have to keep looking ahead and feel comfortable in backing yourself. That’s the difference between being CIO and an IT manager—one is responsible for getting things done, the other for a vision and making a difference.”

Fletcher Building is an $NZ8 billion organization made up of more than 30 companies that range from manufacturing, mining aggregates, road making, and more, and when it was time to digitally transform and better enable a data-driven and platforms-based business, Locandro’s forward-thinking philosophy was integral in the company’s efforts to succeed.

Creating the right platform

In the year he’s been CIO, Locandro has moved quickly to simplify and streamline the IT set-up around such a complex business. “If you think about the last century, companies were built point to point,” he says. “You end up with a spaghetti tree built out of mergers and acquisitions and it becomes costly. Most companies will put in SAP and a version for each country and then customize it. We’re doing one global instance moving from 17 instances to one. Furthermore, we’re busy moving from 750 Edge systems to 350.”

Fletcher Building’s visionary adoption of a cutting-edge ERP platform is on track to revolutionize its digital infrastructure and serve as a launchpad for innovation across the group. The Digital@Fletchers program consolidates these 17 unique ERP instances and approximately 350 interfacing satellite systems into a single, unified ERP core. This harmonized approach, with 80% commonality and 20% local configuration, simplifies upgrades while significantly reducing costs.

The transformational power of this unified ERP arrangement also allows businesses within the Fletcher Group to build on a solid foundation, driving synergies and fostering innovation. By streamlining processes and eliminating almost half of the satellite systems, the new ERP landscape empowers Fletcher companies to focus on developing novel solutions and accelerating growth using the new ERP Core system.

“When it comes to a platform-based business, you can plug and play and get synergies so the whole group can take advantage of your customized e-commerce platform, data and analytics platform, and safety platform,” he says. “That’s why we’re moving into a platforms-based business, and as we do new mergers and acquisitions, we plug them into the system. We run a federated model, and as a group IT function, we determine what is core, what is standard, and then we allow the businesses the freedom to innovate on top of them. We get the synergies of scale, and the flexibility and agility of innovation.”

Making a difference

Fletcher Building is essentially a vertically integrated building company with specific technical challenges, and, in particular, Locandro sees the biggest problem for aspiring CIOs is a lack of cohesion with the business, merely having technical people who can’t align a strategy to achieve a business outcome. There must be an ability to deal with ambiguity and map out a path in order to get there by the time the tech matures, he says. And in an organization of this size, challenges and threats appear every day.

Broadly speaking, however, three pillars drive the company forward. One is about gathering operational efficiency in order to reduce the cost to serve, digitize, and automate inefficient processes. The second revolves around growing customer intimacy, and, to this end, Fletcher is developing CRM systems and other more customer-facing applications. “We want to get intimate, to use analytics and search engines to build a persona and profile,” he says. “A new ERP system will allow us to see a customer who deals with us end to end rather than in their disparate silos. We focus on using digital apps together with the rest of it to help increase our net promoter score.”

And the third, simply put, centers on breakthrough innovation. Its scale and scope illustrate how tech innovation delivers paradigm shifts in how the business operates, from its use of drones to survey material stockpiles and the integrity of road surfaces, to using AI to look at concrete and cement mixtures to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as it’s applications in safety systems to predict preventable injuries. There’s also innovation in operationally efficient call centers, and state-of-the-art Google hubs and analytics to develop intelligent decisions to feed back into the ERP systems. “We’re also doing IOT sensors in factories to do health checks and predictive maintenance before machines break down,” he says. “With 5G tech, we can put it into real-time feeds.”

Locandro is confident he can use his global experience to turn such highly ambitious goals into reality. “No matter where I work, it’s all about transformation and leaving a legacy behind, and being prepared to do the hard yards into a new evolution,” he says. “Industrial and manufacturing businesses have a reputation for being laggards in digitization, but we’re turning that around.”

CIO, Digital Transformation, ERP Systems, IT Leadership

Industry body IT Professionals New Zealand has the election year in its sights as it aims to grow the capability of people in tech at all levels—from those entering the industry to new CIOs.

Formerly known as the New Zealand Computer Society, ITP has been operating for 65 years, and is focused on skills, talent and capability of those who work in the digital technology industry.

The organisation’s CEO, Victoria MacLennan, says ITP is working “to support both industry growth and maturity, and we work really closely with education providers to ensure their courses are grounded in industry needs, and are attractive to people who want to learn digital technology skills.”

The organisation has around 5,000 members and 2,5000 student members, and MacLennan is working to open membership to anyone who works in, or aspires to work in, the digital technology industry “because we want it to be an open, broad, supportive organisation,” she says.

So her ultimate goal is to change the face of the industry. “I want to make it easier for people to choose careers working with digital technology; easier for people we don’t usually see in the industry—women, Māori, Pasifika, people with disabilities—to take advantage of how awesome it is and to find that the environment is supportive, inclusive, and they can study and work here without facing discrimination.”

To support new CIOs and aspiring CIOs, ITP is launching its ‘How to be an effective CIO’ course, now in its fourth year. MacLennan said the training came about when a group of experienced CIOs, who went on to run the course, were looking at succession planning challenges for themselves and their own organisations, and wondered where the next cohort of CIOs was coming from.

“They got together to collaborate and design a program to help those who aspire to be a CIO, or they find themselves newly appointed into the role, looking for that kind of grounding that they need to understand how they take that step,” she says.

The 12-week course has a mixture of online and in-person sessions, with up to 20 participants working together in groups, and it’s run in chunks so people don’t have to give up a whole week to attend.

“I’m told all the time by people who’ve been through the course that they still communicate with their cohort,” says MacLennan. “They get together and they’ve got a really good peer support framework.”

The role of CIO has evolved, and MacLennan says people from all sorts of backgrounds are now taking up these positions.

“Times have changed, as we know, and we’re no longer in a world where a CIO is the most technical person who’s been promoted into that role,” she says. “An effective, modern-day CIO needs to be a people leader as much as a technology leader. They need great communication skills and a strong understanding of governance, strategy and how to make decisions for today while focusing on the future. When you’re making that step from being an operational, hands-on tools person to a strategic role like a CIO, how you make those decisions is a unique skill.”

CIOs also need a good grounding in risk,cybersecurity, as well as an understanding of emerging technology and an ability to work with boards and senior leadership.

The other way ITP supports New Zealand’s CIO community is by offering mentoring. “There are many good, really effective CIOs who are mentors,” she says. “They offer their time to support aspiring CIOs or those new to the role. So, for our members, there’s a good process to match you with someone who can help with your career, aspirations, and goals.”

Election year opportunities

ITP also plays a role lobbying Government on behalf of the industry to ensure policy and investment settings include digital technology, “It’s easy for them to forget about us and forget that digital skills are something that are required not only for digital technology industry organisations, but for every organisation that employs people in their IT departments,” she says.

With the NZ General Election coming up in October, MacLennan is pushing hard to remind the Government of the changes the industry wants to see.

“The Government is probably the largest employer of digital technology capability in New Zealand, and uses a mixture of permanent employment and contractors, she says. “But a lot of the challenges we have with the workforce and management of the workforce, particularly in Wellington, comes from the fact that Government suck everyone up.”

She adds that the Government needs to “get their own house in order as an employer and use the workforce and the space more effectively” by using things like the SFIA framework, which has become the globally accepted common language for the skills and competencies for the digital world, and which every organisation in New Zealand can use.

“If you join the government as a policy analyst, there’s really clear roles, responsibilities, and career progressions,” she says. “None of that is applied in a digital technology role context.”

The other area ITP is looking to change is in the education space.

“It’s hard for people to choose a digital technology career and easy for a 17-year-old to follow a construction career path line that’s all mapped out,” she says.  “We haven’t mapped it out to make it easy for digital technology. There are something like seven types of bachelor’s degrees offered across the Te Pūkenga network [the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology], for example, which are all digital technology related. We’ve got to find easier ways of making it possible for people to choose and be less confusing.”

And while it might be a bridge too far for the Government or the Opposition, MacLennan is also keen for procurement to be used as a lever with the private sector, so more investment is made in building new capability.

She points out that there is power in procurement and that it’s one way to get the private sector to look at things differently.

Education Industry, Government, IT Leadership, Technology Industry

Generative AI (GenAI) is taking the world by storm. During my career, I’ve seen many technologies disrupt the status quo, but none with the speed and magnitude of GenAI. Yet, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. Now, GenAI is emerging from the consumer realm and moving into the enterprise landscape. And for good reason; GenAI is empowering big transformations.

My previous article covered how an enterprise’s unique needs are best met with a tailored approach to GenAI. Doing so on the front end will avoid re-engineering challenges later. But how can enterprises use GenAI and large language models today? From optimizing back-office tasks to accelerating manufacturing innovations, let’s explore the revolutionary potential of these powerful AI-driven technologies in action across various industries.

Enterprise Use Cases for GenAI

GenAI fuels product development and innovation.  In product development, GenAI can play a crucial role in fueling the ideation and design of new products and services. By analyzing market trends, customer feedback and competitors’ offerings, AI-driven tools can generate potential product ideas and features, offering unique insights that help businesses accelerate innovation. For instance, automotive manufacturers can use GenAI to design lighter-weight components —via material science innovations and novel component designs — that help make vehicles more energy efficient.

GenAI crafts marketing campaigns

Large language models can produce highly personalized marketing campaigns based on customer data and preferences. By analyzing purchase history, browsing behavior and other factors, these models generate tailored messaging, offers and promotions for individual customers to increase engagement, conversion rates and customer loyalty. Gartner estimates that 30% of outbound marketing messages from enterprise organizations will be AI-driven by 2025, increasing from less than 2% in 2022.

GenAI enhances customer support

GenAI can provide instant, personalized responses to customer queries in an incredibly human-like manner. Large language models can offer relevant solutions, make product recommendations and engage in natural-sounding conversations. As a result, customers can gain faster response and resolution, and organizations can free up human agents to focus on more complex customer issues. For example, Amazon uses GenAI to power Alexa and its automated online chat assistant, both of which are available 24/7/365.

GenAI optimizes back-office tasks 

Generative AI models can automate and optimize various internal processes, such as drafting reports, creating standard operating procedures, and crafting personalized emails. Streamlining these tasks can reduce operational costs, minimize human error and increase overall efficiency.

GenAI writes software code

Through a technique known as neural code generation, GenAI enhances software development processes by automating code generation, refactoring and debugging. GenAI models can produce code snippets and suggest relevant libraries within the context and requirements of specific programming tasks. In this way, GenAI can help increase developer productivity, reduce errors and speed up development while providing more secure and reliable software. 

GenAI’s Powerful Potential

These diverse use cases demonstrate the immense potential of Generative AI and large language models to revolutionize the way enterprises operate—and no industry is exempt. Harnessing these cutting-edge technologies will usher in transformative ways for organizations to enhance customer experiences, drive innovation throughout operations and gain new levels of competitive differentiation. 

Because its capabilities are so revolutionary, AI will create a widening gap between organizations that embrace its transformative power and those that do not. Our own research shows that AI leaders are already advantaged over late adopters. While the urgency to leverage AI varies by company and industry, IDC, in that same research study, posits that we have reached the point where every organization must have an AI approach in place to stay viable. Thus, exploring AI and GenAI today, before the yawning gap grows, is a crucial step for organizations that want to secure their future.

Learn more.


To help organizations move forward, Dell Technologies is powering the enterprise GenAI journey. With best-in-class IT infrastructure and solutions to run GenAI workloads and advisory and support services that roadmap GenAI initiatives, Dell is enabling organizations to boost their digital transformation and accelerate intelligent outcomes. 

The compute required for GenAI models has put a spotlight on performance, cost and energy efficiency as top concerns for enterprises today. Intel’s commitment to the democratization of AI and sustainability will enable broader access to the benefits of AI technology, including GenAI, via an open ecosystem. Intel’s AI hardware accelerators, including new built-in accelerators, provide performance and performance per watt gains to address the escalating performance, price and sustainability needs of GenAI.

Artificial Intelligence

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the prevailing thinking among IT organizations was that what we deliver is more important than how we deliver it. Today’s most successful CIOs recognize that service missteps can make or break their team’s reputation. A culture of service excellence ensures that the IT organization is viewed and heard as a valued partner to the business.

What does it take to achieve IT service excellence? For starters, it helps to know what we’re talking about. Being service-oriented doesn’t mean being subservient. And a good service strategy isn’t about being all things to all people.

In a recent virtual roundtable discussion, five technology executives shared their experiences and best practices in building a service-oriented IT culture and workforce. Joining in the discussion were Brian Abrahamson, associate laboratory director and chief digital officer for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Renee Ghent, SVP of customer operations at HealthEdge; Karen Juday, former director of IT client support at UCLA and director of IT customer service at the University of Southern California, now a service excellence facilitator with Ouellette & Associates; Dr. Miloš Topić, VP of IT and chief digital officer at Grand Valley State University; and David Vidoni, VP of IT at Pegasystems.

What a service-oriented IT mindset looks like

While these CxOs represent diverse industries, their approaches to service have many common themes. Chief among them is shifting from an us-versus-them mentality about IT and the business to an attitude of “we.”

“I think we’ve done the IT industry a disservice by constantly referring to IT and the business, artificially creating this wedge,” says Pegasystems’ Vidoni. “We’re all in it for the same reasons — to deliver better outcomes to customers and make sure that our organizations are successful. So we have to change the mindset on both sides, and we need to be playing off of each other’s strengths to have a common goal.”

David Vidoni, VP of IT, Pegasystems


That’s a completely different perspective from the view that service is about taking orders and responding to requests. By contrast, PNNL’s Abrahamson says a service-oriented IT culture should help build a foundation of trust so that IT is viewed as an equal partner. And part of that comes from being able to speak the language of the business and proactively thinking about what would best serve the client.

“Service excellence really comes down to understanding the client’s needs and how we can we make them as productive as possible to quickly deliver their solutions,” says Vidoni.

Those clients could be internal or external, and in fact, there are many lessons from the external customer experience that IT organizations can and should be applying internally as well.

The secret sauce that we’re trying to capitalize on is bringing those consumer-grade experiences into the workplace,” Abrahamson says. “After all, we’re all consumers — and as consumers we’ve been conditioned to expect simple, easy experiences. Why should it be any different in the workplace?”

Brian Abrahamson, associate laboratory director and CDO, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

To make this experienced-focused mindset central to their service strategy, his team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory follows a credo that emphasizes three major elements: bold, effortless, and personal.

Being bold means acting as thought leaders to bring big ideas forward or expand on others’ ideas. Effortless is “an obsessive focus on simplicity so we become the grease on everything we do, because top-notch scientists don’t come here to get caught up in bureaucratic processes,” he says.

The third aspect, personalization, is one that many technology executives are heavily focused on today, particularly now that we have the analytics and automation to make experiences more individualized. Service personalization is about making customers “feel like a human, not a number,” as Abrahamson says.

Executing on that principle requires IT professionals to be fully dialed in to mission and purpose. “It’s really easy to say, ‘I’m just writing code. I’m just processing an eligibility file,’” HealthEdge’s Ghent notes. “To humanize the experience, our engineers have to recognize that everything they do is making a better healthcare system for individuals.”

Renee Ghent, SVP of customer operations, HealthEdge


That’s what brings the emphasis back to impact. When IT professionals proactively look for ways to better serve and address client needs, they not only build up stronger connections with their business partners; they also tend to get brought in early on in the decision-making process — instead of at the last minute when they’re relegated to clean-up crew. 

While many technology teams still struggle to get invited to that first meeting, building trust through consistent service excellence can be the game-changer. Topić’s advice: “Find a way to be present, to lead, to move things forward, but not make it about yourself. Make it about that impact.”

Measuring what matters

Another reason it’s important to understand what service excellence really means is that it will help you measure the right things and ensure you’re getting a full picture of customer satisfaction and engagement.

“I think we fell into the trap of just focusing on metrics around responsiveness, how quickly we were resolving tickets, how many calls were abandoned, things like that,” Vidoni shares. “The problem with that is it was creating a watermelon effect, where everything looked green from the outside, but if you poked a bit deeper, you’d find pockets of red — the true level of satisfaction and engagement with the service.”

His team still looks at those metrics, but now they also look at more qualitative aspects of their services, such as how employees feel about the technology and how productive they are with it.

In Ghent’s organization, the qualitative data was already there, it just wasn’t being shared with her team. As a result, they were missing not just the comments about what needed to be improved but also the positive feedback and appreciation for what the team was doing to go above and beyond to get problems addressed.

“Now we get those results every quarter, and I sit down and review them with the entire team,” Ghent says. “We go through the negative comments, but we also get to celebrate the positive things our customers are saying about us. It didn’t cost us anything, and it has helped us reorient our team to having more purpose and pride in the work that they’re doing.”

Ouellette’s Juday, who completed her doctoral dissertation on improving customer satisfaction through IT service excellence, agrees that responsiveness is only the tip of the iceberg. In training for IT professionals, she uses The RATER Model, originally published in the book Delivering Quality Service, by Valarie Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman, and Leonard Berry:

Karen Juday, service excellence facilitator, Ouellette & Associates

Ouellette & Associates

Responsiveness: Delivering service in the time frame the customer expects — and letting people know where they are in the process.Assurance: Instilling trust in your customer that you have the skills to do the job. SLAs and guarantees are associated with assurance.Tangibles: Encompassing everything the customer touches or comes in contact with —  physical spaces, websites, communications, and anything else they interact with.Empathy: Showing care and understanding. Empathy isn’t enough on its own, but when done right, it’s a huge competitive advantage and differentiator.Reliability: What’s judged at the point of delivery. In addition to whether the system is performing as expected or advertised, this is about following through on your commitments.

If you’re not getting the full data to help you gauge progress and areas for improvement, Vidoni advises, “Reach out and work with those departments to cultivate champions who can help advocate on your behalf — to bubble up those comments and feedback that you may not be hearing. It’s important to build trust at that level as well.”

Building a service-oriented culture

Like any cultural effort, creating a service-oriented culture is a continual and multifaceted process, not a one-and-done event.

Abrahamson keeps the momentum strong through continual reinforcement and sharing real-world examples of what excellent service looks like. “We’ll tell credo stories on an all-staff call, talking about the act of making something effortless or the act of personalizing some part of what you do for a customer,” he says. “It’s about celebrating those accomplishments and making them very real. You need the entire organization thinking about how you simplify and personalize the experience, not just the management team.”

In addition to a supportive environment, Juday’s research emphasizes the role of leadership, particularly in terms of setting goals and rewarding service quality. Adds GVSU’s Topić, “You really have to model the behavior you want to see. I believe that everything begins and ends with those leadership positions. They make a huge difference.”

Dr. Miloš Topić, VP of IT and CDO, Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley State University

Topić points out that this isn’t just about the leaders at the top of the org chart; direct leaders play an outsize role in what the culture actually becomes.

“A friend of mine uses the acronym SIP: You have to be supportive, inspirational, and positive, even when you’re not feeling that way, because the real change is when you propagate it down across teams. If people get one message from me, but something else from their immediate supervisor, and then there’s somebody between us who’s not following that path all the way down and across, it causes fragmentation and confusion,” he says.

At an individual level, people have to be motivated to deliver on service excellence and understand what’s in it for them.

“That also goes back to the influence of leaders, who need to say, ‘This is important to us,’ and then they need to show it by rewarding service excellence,” Juday says.

Another important piece of motivation is feeling confident that you have the skills to deliver excellent service. Many IT professionals are keenly focused right now on developing their technical competencies but aren’t getting the training they need to become better at service delivery.

Increasingly, CIOs are recognizing that service and other “soft skills” training is core to IT success today, and every bit as critical as technical expertise. According to Juday, after participating in training on achieving service excellence using The RATER Model, her team’s customer response time improved from 4-5 days to 4-6 hours.

Vidoni’s team is also embarking on service excellence training, with an eye toward increasing their business value and impact. “We want to give the team the tools to feel more confident and comfortable to execute with consistency. I think this training will help reduce the friction with engagement, make it easier for teams to engage, make it a better experience for our stakeholders, and, ultimately, lead to better outcomes,” he says.

Making every interaction count

Research shows that it takes 12 positive customer experiences to earn back the trust lost to one negative experience. These are the moments of truth that can make or break a relationship and strengthen or erode the team’s credibility. Every touchpoint along the customer journey, whether big or small, counts. And just as often, as Abrahamson says, “It’s the small stuff that matters most.”

“We tell our folks, everybody sells,” says Ghent. “Every moment of every interaction with a customer, you are potentially selling a new line of business, a professional services contract, or something else. They are watching the experience that we provide to them.”

Mapping out those moments of truth across all of the different touchpoints customers have with your organization is tremendously valuable in gauging service levels and pinpointing where improvement is needed. Just don’t make it a theoretical experiment.

“Go experience them yourself,” Topić urges. “I will get a cup of coffee and go into one of our largest libraries and sit with my back to the service desk, pretend to be on the phone, and listen to the experiences. Listen to the calls. I will make a call myself and see what the experience is. I will walk through those labs and see what the experience is. How long is the wait? Why are students standing in this corner and no one’s greeting them? Live those experiences that will significantly influence the decisions you make.”

Getting started

These executives have generously provided a valuable window into the strategies, credos, leadership philosophies, tips, and tools they’ve applied to build and sustain a service-oriented IT culture and workforce. Now, it’s time to ask yourself:

How are my people showing up today?Have I connected them to our purpose and how we impact our end customer?What’s it like to do business with us?Are we paying attention to those moments that matter?Are we measuring those things that matter most to our different stakeholders?

Reach out to me if you would like to have a discussion around the “moments of truth,” The RATER Model, and how to build a world class service team.

This article is part of an ongoing roundtable series with CIOs sharing their best practices and leadership advice on a variety of strategic workforce and development topics. Previously, 7 CIOs discussed building a consultative IT culture. The next CIO roundtable will explore the topic of leading change.

Digital Transformation, IT Leadership

By George Trujillo, Principal Data Strategist, DataStax

I recently had a conversation with a senior executive who had just landed at a new organization. He had been trying to gather new data insights but was frustrated at how long it was taking. (Sound familiar?) After walking his executive team through the data hops, flows, integrations, and processing across different ingestion software, databases, and analytical platforms, they were shocked by the complexity of their current data architecture and technology stack. It was obvious that things had to change for the organization to be able to execute at speed in real time.

Data is a key component when it comes to making accurate and timely recommendations and decisions in real time, particularly when organizations try to implement real-time artificial intelligence. Real-time AI involves processing data for making decisions within a given time frame. The time frame window can be in minutes, seconds, or milliseconds, based on the use case. Real-time AI brings together streaming data and machine learning algorithms to make fast and automated decisions; examples include recommendations, fraud detection, security monitoring, and chatbots.

A whole lot has to happen behind the scenes to succeed and get tangible business results. The underpinning architecture needs to include event-streaming technology, high-performing databases, and machine learning feature stores. All of this needs to work cohesively in a real-time ecosystem and support the speed and scale necessary to realize the business benefits of real-time AI.

It isn’t easy. Most current data architectures were designed for batch processing with analytics and machine learning models running on data warehouses and data lakes. Real-time AI requires a different mindset, different processes, and faster execution speed. In this article, I’ll share insights on aligning vision and leadership, as well as reducing complexity to make data actionable for delivering real-time AI solutions.

A real-time AI north star

More than once, I’ve seen senior executives completely aligned on mission while their teams fight subtle yet intense wars of attrition across different technologies, siloes, and beliefs on how to execute the vision.

A clear vision for executing a real-time AI strategy is a critical step to align executives and line-of-business leaders on how real-time AI will increase business value for the organization.

The execution plan must come from a shared vision that offers transparency and includes defining a laundry list of methodologies, technology stacks, scope, processes, cross-functional impacts, resources, and measurements with sufficient detail so that cross-functional teams have enough direction to collaborate and work together to achieve operational goals.

Machine learning models (algorithms that comb through data to recognize patterns or make decisions) rely on the quality and reliability of data created and maintained by application developers, data engineers, SREs, and data stewards. How well these teams work together will determine the speed they deliver real-time AI solutions. As real-time becomes pervasive across the organization, several questions begin to arise:

How are cross-functional teams enabled to support the speed of change, agility, and quality of data for real-time AI, as ML models evolve? What level of alerting, observability, and profiling can be counted on to ensure trust in the data by the business?How do analysts and data scientists find, access, and understand the context around real-time data?How is data, process, and model drift managed for reliability? Downstream teams can create strategy drift without a clearly defined and managed execution strategy; is the strategy staying consistent, evolving, or beginning to drift?Real-time AI is a science project until benefits to the business are realized. What metrics are used to understand the business impact of real-time AI?

As scope increases, so does the need for broad alignment

The growth of real-time AI in the organization impacts execution strategy. New projects or initiatives, like adding intelligent devices for operational efficiency, improving real-time product recommendations, or opening new business models for real-time, tend to be executed at an organization’s edge—by specialized experts, evangelists, and other individuals who innovate.

The edge is away from the business center of gravity—away from entrenched interests, vested political capital, and the traditional way of thinking.

The edge has less inertia, so it’s easier to facilitate innovation, new ways of thinking, and approaches that are novel compared to an organization’s traditional lines of business, institutional thinking, and existing infrastructure. Business transformation occurs when innovation at the edge can move into the center lines of business such as operations, e-commerce, customer service, marketing, human resources, inventory, and shipping/receiving.

A real-time AI initiative is a science project until it demonstrates business value. Tangible business benefits such as increased revenue, reduced costs in operational efficiency and better decisioning must be shared with the business.

Expanding AI from the edge into the core business units requires continuous effort in risk and change management, demonstrating value and strategy, and strengthening the culture around data and real-time AI. One should not move AI deeper into the core of an organization without metrics and results that demonstrate business value that has been achieved through AI at the current level. Business outcomes are the currency for AI to grow in an organization.

A real-time data platform

Here we see the current state of most data ecosystems compared to the real-time data stack necessary to drive real-time AI success:


Leaders face challenges in executing a unified and shared vision across these environments.  Real-time data doesn’t exist in silos; it flows in two directions across a data ecosystem. The data used to train ML models may exist in memory caches, the operational data store, or in the analytic databases. Data must get back to the source to provide instructions to devices or to provide recommendations to a mobile app. A unified data ecosystem enables this in real time.


Within the real-time data ecosystem, the heart of real-time decisioning is made up of the real-time streaming data, the ML feature store, and the ML feature engine. Reducing complexity here is critical.


I’ve highlighted how data for real-time decisioning flows in both directions across data sources, streaming data, databases, analytic data platforms, and the cloud. Machine-learning features contain data used to train machine-learning models and to be used as inference data when the models run in production. Real-time models that make decisions in real-time require an ecosystem that supports speed and agility for updating existing models and putting new models into production across the data dimensions shown below.


A real-time data ecosystem includes two core components: the data ingestion platform that receives real-time messages and event streams, and the operational data store that integrates and persists the real-time events, operational data, and the machine learning feature data.  These two foundational cores need to be aligned for agility across the edge, on-premises, hybrid cloud, and multi-vendor clouds. 

Complexity from disparate data platforms will not support the speed and agility that data needs to work at to support real-time AI. Changing criteria, new data, and evolving customer conditions can cause machine learning models to get out of date quickly. The data pipeline flows across memory caches, dashboards, event streams, databases, and analytical platforms that have to be updated, changed, or infused with new data criteria. Complexity across the data ecosystem impacts the speed to perform these updates accurately. 

A unified, multi-purpose data ingestion platform and operational data store greatly reduce the number of technology languages teams must speak and the complexity of working with real-time data flows across the ecosystem. A unified stack also improves the ability to scale real-time AI across an organization. As mentioned earlier, reducing complexity also improves the cohesiveness of the different teams supporting the real-time data ecosystem.

New real-time AI initiatives need to look at the right data technology stack through the lens of what it takes to support evolving machine learning models running in real-time. This doesn’t necessarily require ripping and replacing existing systems. Minimize disruption by running new data through an updated, agile, real-time data ecosystem and slowly migrate out of data platforms to the real-time AI stack as needed.

Wrapping up

Moving real-time AI from the edge of innovation to the center of the business will be one of the biggest challenges for organizations in 2023. A shared vision, driven by leadership and a unified real-time data stack, are key factors for enabling innovation with real-time AI. Growing a community around innovation with real-time AI makes the whole stronger than the parts–and is the only way that AI can bring tangible business results.

Learn how DataStax enables real-time AI.

About George Trujillo:

George is principal data strategist at DataStax. Previously, he built high-performance teams for data-value driven initiatives at organizations including Charles Schwab, Overstock, and VMware. George works with CDOs and data executives on the continual evolution of real-time data strategies for their enterprise data ecosystem. 

Artificial Intelligence, IT Leadership, Machine Learning

When he’s not immersed in cybersecurity, hybrid cloud strategy, or app modernization, David Reis, CIO at the University of Miami Health System and the Miller School of Medicine, spends his time working with the board of directors and top leadership to reimagine healthcare and take the lead driving digital transformation.

A business objective to “arrive” more patients per hour or the CEO’s desire to leverage historical data to predict future patient volume and revenue doesn’t start with a technology discussion or spoon-feed IT a particular business strategy to execute. Today, Reis and his team are early-stage partners with the business to ideate new digital strategies aimed at keeping the healthcare provider at the forefront of patient experience and care, safety, and innovation.

“In these discussions, we didn’t talk about phones, infrastructure, servers, computers, or storage — all the things people expect with IT,” Reis says. “IT is now thought of as a partner and brought in much sooner in the overall rethinking of business processes rather than coming in at the end to digitize workflows.”

David Reis, CIO, University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine

University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine

Despite another year dominated by a transformation agenda and getting digital operations in order, CIOs like Reis are finding their footing as an invaluable strategic partner and resource for the business. According to the 2023 State of the CIO research, which surveyed 837 IT leaders and 201 line of business (LOB) participants, functional and transformational work consumed the bulk of IT leaders’ time this year, much the same as 2022.

Eighty-four percent of respondents were immersed in basic functional tasks such as security management (47%), improving IT operations and systems performance (40%), and cost control and expense management (28%). IT leaders were equally committed to transformation work (83%), including modernizing infrastructure and applications (35%), aligning IT initiatives with business goals (38%), cultivating the IT/business partnership (31%), and directing change efforts (28%).

Foundry /

While far fewer (61%) cited business strategist responsibilities as the year’s primary charter, many, like Reis, are already well-established and sought-after strategy leaders, continuing to mature their influence going forward. At the same time, the majority of 2023 State of the CIO respondents (71%) also anticipate greater immersion in business strategy over the next three years. With technology at the epicenter of all aspects of modern business, IT leaders fully expect their remit to include actively driving business innovation, developing and refining business strategy, and identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation.

Kevin Gray, CIO, City of Burbank, Calif.

City of Burbank, Calif.

“The CIO role today is really a business leadership role that is not necessarily focused on technology — technology is just part and parcel of what we do every day,” says Kevin Gray, CIO for the City of Burbank, Calif. “We are helping form strategy for our organizations, laying out roadmaps, and developing policy in ways we didn’t in the past. A CIO or CTO who wakes up thinking about technology is thinking about the wrong things.”

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CIOs’ leadership stature matures

This year’s focus on IT transformation and modernization hasn’t diluted demand for CIO leadership. More than half of respondents to the 2023 State of the CIO survey (55%) said they proactively identify business opportunities and make recommendations regarding technology and provider selections while 23% said they advise on business need, technology choices, and providers.

As in prior years, the CIO role continues to be more digital- and innovation-focused — a trend cited by 85% of IT leaders participating in this year’s survey. Not only are CIOs involved in digital transformation — the majority of 2023 survey respondents maintain CIOs are more likely to lead digital transformation efforts compared to their business leader counterparts — a scenario cited by 84% of IT leaders along with nearly three quarters (72%) of LOB participants.

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CIOs’ mounting credibility as a lever for business transformation is also being recognized on a broader scale, even as IT leaders are wrapped up with modernization efforts and operationalizing the technology investments that were accelerated these past few years. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they view the CIO role as a changemaker, slightly higher than last year.


of CIOs agree that the CIO is becoming a changemaker, increasingly leading business and technology initiatives

At the same time, CIOs continue to forge strong relationships with other influencers in the executive ranks: Seventy-seven percent of 2023 State of the CIO respondents have cultivated a strong educational partnership with the CEO and board of directors. Nearly half (49%) of IT leaders participating in this year’s research report directly to the CEO, and CIOs themselves have retained oversight of some of the newer C-level positions. For example, among the 2023 State of the CIO survey base, many chief data officers (53%) and chief digital officers (42%) now come under the CIO management umbrella. Chief security officers and chief analytics officers are also more likely to report into IT leadership.

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In a similar vein, IT retains direct control over a good portion of the IT budget at most companies — on average, around 43.5% — with respondents expecting that ratio to tick up to about 50% over the next three years. In keeping with the reporting structures, CIOs are commanding oversight of budgets allocated to some of the newer executive titles: Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said the CTO budget was factored into overall technology expenditures under CIO management while half said the same of the chief digital officer budget. A much higher number, 63%, confirmed chief data officer expenses came under the CIO and IT department’s remit.

While CIO’s leadership stature and immersion in the business has been steadily growing for some time, ongoing economic uncertainty, the vast potential of emerging technologies to transform business, and the lingering halo effects from CIOs’ widely heralded pandemic performance have underscored the significance of the role when it comes to business strategy. Specifically, the level of transformation during the pandemic was unrivaled compared to prior periods, and the business strategies and foundational platforms put in place call for IT leadership to promote broad adoption and oversee continuous care and feeding, says JP Saini, chief digital & technology officer at Sunbelt Rentals, a global player in the equipment rental market.

JP Saini, chief digital and technology officer, Sunbelt Rentals

Sunbelt Rentals

“It’s about how to maintain the edge we created with the business strategies we implemented,” Saini says. “Unlike prior years, where you launch something big and the next refresh cycle is three to four years out, there’s now a continued value creation formula for digital transformation that happens year over year.”

What’s on the 2023 docket

Sunbelt Rentals’ 2023 roadmap calls for evolving its digital platforms in areas such as omnichannel ecommerce, dynamic pricing, service, supply chain, and warehouse management. The company is also investing in new collaboration technologies and Zero Trust initiatives to fully empower its employees for hybrid work, no matter where they are and on whatever device they are working from, Saini says.

The digital transformation and technology organizations used to operate on two parallel tracks. Today, they’ve been consolidated into a single group reporting to Saini to accelerate delivery of systems that drive business strategy forward. “We’re now one group that handles initiatives from start to finish because time was of the essence,” he explains. “Whatever launches in terms of ecommerce, if you don’t have a good roadmap to keep ahead of competitors, the value is eroded.”

At insurance company The Hartford, the technology initiatives and business strategies that are on tap for 2023 are one and the same, according to Deepa Soni, the company’s CIO. Cloud deployment, AI, analytics, a modern data ecosystem, and digitization of more business processes are at the top of the agenda to simplify interactions for customers, brokers, and agents and to bring the power of digital tools to employees. For example, underwriters used to toggle between nearly a dozen tools to get their job done — today they use one streamlined tool with all relevant information at their fingertips to make better decisions while understanding risks, Soni says.

Deepa Soni, CIO, The Hartford

The Hartford

With new technologies poised to reinvent business processes and disrupt entire markets, Soni says she and her CIO counterparts must play a pivotal role guiding the business to think about things differently while recognizing opportunities to harness technology to create solutions for business partners, customers, and employees. One of the more significant changes at The Hartford has been to embrace agile practices, not just in the IT domain, but as a companywide business practice. “We’re now organized around customer-centric value streams that start with the product owners in the business and extend into technology,” she explains. “The opportunity to leverage data and technology is increasing so we have to deliver capabilities faster to be able to better capitalize on future opportunities.”

Leveraging data, advanced analytics, and AI is top priority across the board. Thirty-four percent of IT leaders responding to the 2023 State of the CIO survey called out data/business analytics as a major tech initiative driving IT investments, second only to security and risk management (38%). Machine learning and AI were also high on the list, cited by 26%.

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With data and analytics a critical engine for driving business strategy, Dow Inc. combined its data and analytics teams into one group last year, elevating a new dedicated leadership role. Chris Bruman, Dow’s first chief data and analytics officer, reports directly into Melanie Kalmar, a corporate vice president and Dow’s CIO and chief digital officer.

Chris Bruman, chief data and analytics officer, Dow


In his dual role, Bruman leads a centralized data and analytics team, but also has accountability for building a data and analytics strategy for the entire enterprise, to both enable growth and empower productivity. On his watch, Dow has updated its data operating model to a hub and spoke approach, is setting up a data platform and data catalog that can support the entire enterprise, and expanded the data initiative to harness both structured and unstructured data. Bruman’s group has also invested time and resources in data literacy, launching a companywide program to upskill the enterprise in the language of data and how to take advantage of data and analytics.

“Because analytics are so much more important in how we do work every day, we don’t believe a fully centralized team can keep up with the demand,” he explains. With the federated or hub and spoke approach, the power of leveraging analytics rests in the business functions. “It’s about data democratization and empowering the spokes to do more on their own,” he says.

The CIO-plus role takes shape

In addition to the focus on data, Dow has also invested considerably over the past few years to put digital platforms in place, including those aimed at improving and speeding up the pace of innovation and delivering a better digital buying experience on while expanding direct connections with customers. Dow is also working to digitize its manufacturing sites, channeling data to the field where it’s needed to drive decisions and improve operational efficiency, operating discipline, safety, and reliability, according to CIO and CDO Kalmar. “Digital at Dow represents a company strategy, not just an IT strategy,” she says.

Melanie Kalmar, CVP, CIO, and chief digital officer, Dow


Other CIOs, like Kalmar, are expanding their roles and oversight responsibilities beyond IT as digital strategies move front and center in the business. Many are taking on new revenue responsibilities — a move cited by 68% of IT leaders this year, up from 65% in the 2022 State of the CIO survey. As part of the move, 44% of IT leaders are managing a team tasked with new revenue-generating capabilities, while a quarter are members of such a team, the research found. As part of this expanded revenue charter, IT leaders are automating business and IT processes (47%), creating new products and services (40%), and making data more available (34%).

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Andrew Ho of Global Strategy Group (GSG) now has ownership of both the IT and offices services organizations — a move precipitated by the synergies between the two areas. With hybrid work now a mainstay, Ho’s dual role ensures he has accountability for evolving employee experience and engagement from working both remotely and in-office. For example, when reconfiguring office space to accommodate hybrid work, it’s impossible to separate technology requirements from construction given the need for immersive audio-visual tools, Zoom rooms, and hoteling capabilities, says Ho, senior vice president and head of technology and office services for GSG, a research, communications, and public affairs agency.

Andrew Ho, SVP and head of technology and office services, Global Strategy Group

Global Strategy Group

In addition, Ho says the office services staff is also best positioned to handle the front-end technical support for the firm given they are always in office and maintain a certain relationship with employees. “The lines have blurred with what is facilities versus what is technology, and all of that falls under IT,” he says.

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Sastry Durvasula, who holds both the CIO and client service officer titles, came into TIAA a year ago in part for the CIO-plus opportunity. From a technology perspective, Durvasula’s 2023 roadmap balances transformation through a digital-first agenda built around data and AI for hyper-personalized experiences while at the same time, modernizing the core platforms and processes by harnessing automation and orchestrating hybrid, multicloud migration.

On the Client Services front, Durvasula’s focus is also on AI and automation to transform the way TIAA does everything from front-office client engagement to fraud management and client support services. “Our fundamental belief is that Client Services would have a significant benefit to have proximity to technology as they would be the biggest beneficiary when it comes to AI, automation, and the digital services we are investing in,” Durvasula explains. “It makes a lot of sense to bring them together.”

Sastry Durvasula, CIO and client service officer, TIAA


Durvasula, who’s held CIO-plus roles with oversight of IT and digital products at other companies, firmly believes technology’s front-and-center role in business strategy has changed the game and set IT leaders on a new course. It’s not a matter of switching focus between technology initiatives and business strategy, he says, it’s a balancing act that requires an equal focus on both.

“Now that technology is front and center in business strategy and not a back-end enabler, that changes the CIO role quite a bit,” he says. “Technology is disrupting business in a lot of ways and this is the best time to be on the CIO career path. The branches are wide open.”

Business IT Alignment, CIO, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership

Organizations have been transitioning away from legacy, monolithic platforms as these decades-old IT systems bog down management, flexibility, and agility with their tightly entangled components. CIOs have shifted toward building their own web application platforms with a set of best-in-class tools for more flexibility, customizations, and agile DevOps. This choice, however, isn’t right in all circumstances. In fact, it could be locking you into rigid choices, just like a monolithic platform.

Gartner warns that building your own platform is complex, time consuming, and may not save you money. Independently developing, testing, deploying, and scaling your infrastructure requires expertise, agility, and a shift in team responsibilities. One proven way to ensure a robust, flexible, and streamlined solution is to invest in a standardized front-end platform you can build on. Here’s why.

Building distracts from your core business

Companies (e.g., ecommerce businesses) opting to build their own platform will ultimately find themselves focused on the platform instead of their core business—selling their product. Platform development includes design, coding, testing, securing, and deploying. No platform is a fire-and-forget type of affair.

What’s also overlooked is managing the platform’s non-functional requirements (NFR), such as ensuring maintenance, reliability, visibility, etc. Developing a custom platform requires the expertise of top talent. This talent typically prefers to create, not maintain, so this type of talent is difficult to retain. While you can foster the loyalty of your employees by investing in them—it’s never as predictable as paying a fee for an always-available, all-in-one solution.

Platforms offer predictable total cost of ownership

Large IT projects are hard to execute, particularly when in-house staff is often pulled into multiple directions and distracted by other priorities. This can be costly for organizations: A recent study found that 25 to 40% percent of IT projects exceed their budget or schedules by more than 50%.

Modern platforms, like Edgio’s, are built to unify application tools to lower the total cost of ownership, increase efficiencies, and reduce errors. A comprehensive and streamlined solution can save you from overworking your team to deploy new updates on time and under budget.

In-house innovation can lead to lock-in and employee frustration

A Freshworks survey revealed that nine out of 10 employees are frustrated with their workplace technology, and the majority will consider finding a new employer if they are not provided the tools, technology, and information they need to do their jobs.

Custom platforms are usually cobbled together with different tools from multiple vendors, making them difficult to use. The more customized the in-house platform, the more entrenched the company becomes in it. This limits the ability to adopt new tools, techniques, and technologies to innovate. It’s much like a vendor lock-in with a monolithic platform, but one that was built inside the company.

This, in turn, can cause slower workflows and growing frustration. Over 5,000 DevOps professionals shared details about their processes, and 69% reported wanting more consolidation due to hidden costs, insufficient agility, and the time maintenance takes away from managing security and compliance.

Don’t lose your employees and operational efficiency to ineffective and inefficient tools and workflows.

The multi-billion dollar aggregate investment

Custom platforms are often poorly documented and maintained, and increasingly difficult to use, which increases time to market. This is unforgiving in today’s current economy. In fact, McKinsey found organizations with higher developer velocity outperform competitors in the market by up to five times.

A standardized front-end platform that facilitates continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD), for example the use of serverless functions driven by all the companies using the solution, can drive significant value to each. There are many other companies using the solution, and their aggregate investment will always exceed your potential investment in your own platform. Investing in your own tooling will never scale like that.

To build or not to build?

In today’s rapidly evolving software development landscape, the investment in a robust platform provides a more cost-effective and streamlined solution. It enables companies to focus on their core business objectives and reduce the burden of developing and maintaining customized platforms that limit their ability to innovate.

Companies need to be strategic in their tool choices and recognize the importance of investing in a reliable front-end platform for their web applications that facilitates CI/CD and allows you to build with flexibility. 

Edgio operates a globally scaled edge CDN network with a vertically integrated frontend platform for web apps and APIs. Click here to learn more.

Enterprise Applications, SaaS

How can we get our IT teams to be viewed as more consultative partners to the business? It’s one of the big questions I continue to hear from CIOs. While technology has changed dramatically over the past decade and become increasingly intertwined with the business’s success, many IT teams remain in order-taking mode, responding to requests and then scrambling to address the issues that arise after the fact.

With its end-to-end view of the organization, no function is better positioned than IT to collaborate with the business and take on the role of problem-solving partner. As James Johnson, CIO of James Hardie Industries, notes, “Very often, the IT function is the most knowledgeable function in a company in terms of its broad purview and understanding of both business process and of the technology that runs that process. It’s almost like a secret superpower that even within the IT function we don’t always recognize.”

Flexing this superpower — and being credible in the role — requires a shift in mindset and approach as well as new skills.

We can learn a lot from the CIOs who have been successful in creating consultative IT cultures and workforces. In a recent virtual roundtable discussion, I posed the question to a group of CIOs from diverse industries, including James Hardie’s Johnson; Shanna Cotti-Osmanski, CIO of ConMed; Kristie Grinnell, CIO of DXC Technology; Vicki Hildebrand, CIO of BCBSMA; Sue Kozik, CIO of BCBSLA; Kelly Lyman, CIO of PECO; and Sanjay Shringarpure, CIO of Republic National Distributing. They shared valuable perspective and advice on how to move IT organizations up the Maturity Curve to become more strategic, consultative partners and a driving force in the business.

Shifting to a business-first mindset

In many ways, technology leaders and their teams are going through a transformation that’s requiring them to redefine their purpose and the lens through which they view their role. As Hildebrand notes, we’ve developed a language over time that separates technology from the business, and that paradigm has to shift, starting with leadership.

James Johnson, CIO, James Hardie Industries

James Hardie Industries

“It’s understanding that the function of IT is really to be the business partner first — to bring value to the company,” Johnson says. “So I lead with that mindset. I want to understand what the business problems are, and how we can help solve for them.”

At Republic National Distributing, Shringarpure takes this business-first concept a step further, describing IT’s relationship with the business in terms of two people or teams having joint ownership for driving a business case scenario.

“We call that ‘two in a box,’” Hildebrand adds.

Vicki Hildebrand, CIO, BCBSMA


And here is where PECO’s Lyman says a consultative leadership style is vital: “That’s what helps employees feel like they’re part of the solution. This is not senior leadership coming in and forcing me to go do something. I’m part of the collective decisions on how we’re helping the business in a way that has real, valuable outcomes. We’re adding value not only in what we’re delivering and the way that we’re delivering it, but at the end of the day, we’ve optimized these processes to be the most efficient that we can be.”

This mindset about IT’s role has to be developed and sometimes redefined throughout the organization, not just within the technology organization. Working for James Hardie, a well-established cement manufacturer with a still-growing IT team, Johnson has experienced firsthand the importance of emphasizing to everyone — including business partners — that IT’s job is one of value-enabling, not order-taking.

That’s not always easy, especially when there’s a firmly engrained perception that IT is there strictly to contribute technical capabilities. Even at an insurance organization like BCBSLA, where Kozik says the business relies on her IT team “to help knit things together, since we see how the information flows in an enterprise view that many of our business colleagues don’t,” there are still very few projects where IT is the business owner. Instead, IT is mostly viewed as a technical owner.

Sue Kozik, CIO, BCBSLA


It’s a challenge of perception even at the CIO level, Kozik adds. “Historically, we weren’t really thought of as businesspeople. We were technologists. And I’d say, ‘Do you think the CFO is just a finance person? Aren’t they a businessperson first? Why is IT different?’”

Showing up differently

In many cases, those perceptions are rooted in the reality of how IT has shown up in the past. Most IT organizations still aren’t leveraging their unique view of the enterprise, particularly when it comes to how their teams engage with business partners and their ability to anticipate and deliver game-changing value. This not only prevents many in IT from getting that proverbial seat at the table; it can also obscure some of the creative, innovative work IT is doing — and what that contributes to the business.

Kelly Lyman, CIO, PECO


“Maybe it’s not the big shiny new thing, but a smaller process change or streamlining through automation — these are adding value,” Lyman says.

Shringarpure adds that IT professionals don’t have to take on a massive game-changing initiative to start building credibility with their business partners. In fact, starting smaller can often be more effective. By racking up incremental wins over time, they’ll demonstrate their value and earn the right and the experience to tackle the bigger projects going forward.

Sanjay Shringarpure, CIO, Republic National Distributing

Republic National Distributing

The problem is, sometimes the IT team itself doesn’t recognize the full business impact of what they’re creating. They need to understand the broader goals of the business, how they fit in to these, and how they contribute value to the business. Along with that, leaders need to give people the opportunity to build business acumen across various areas of the organization so they can understand how the business functions. And, Lyman emphasizes, you have to invest in talent and develop your people so that they have the capability to have business-focused conversations.

Leveling up the IT organization pays off in terms of credibility, trust, and stronger relationships with business partners. That’s critical for balancing the needs of all stakeholders in a way that everyone can feel comfortable with. ConMed’s Cotti-Osmanski finds that getting everyone clear on the goals also makes it easier to unite around a solution.

Shanna Cotti-Osmanski, CIO, ConMed


“If my security team had it their way, everyone would be working in a cement bunker with a pencil and paper that we burned at the end of every day,” she says. “There has to be a balance, and oftentimes when I see conflict, it’s because we haven’t aligned on or clearly defined our goals. We might both agree that there is a problem, but we don’t agree on what the problem is and how to solve it. The people who are the most successful are able to back the conversation up, listen and ask questions.”

This takes communication skills as well as consultative skills, two of those so-called soft skills that are now core to success in IT. According to Cotti-Osmanski, who started her career in consulting, “The more technology professionals and leaders get comfortable with these kinds of conversations, the more confidence they’ll have in their viewpoints and the more respect they’ll be given for them. They’ll also be more effective at understanding business context and articulating value, which is especially useful when it comes to difficult decisions.”

BCBSLA’s Kozik adds, “Sometimes you have to be that leader that says we’re not ready to tackle X. It’s having the courage and belief to say no, but for the right reason. It’s ‘no’ so that we can accomplish something else of value. But we need to equip our people to confidently have these different conversations.”

Building culture, increasing value

As more companies reorganize their technology organizations around the mega processes or value streams of the business, many CIOs see it as an opportunity to align and amplify IT’s role working hand-in-glove with the business. That means IT teams need the consultative mindset and skillset to hold up their end of the bargain.

Kristie Grinnell, CIO, DXC Technology

DXC Technology

As DXC’s Grinnell says, the point is to help the company make not just better decisions about what and how to deploy technology, but better-informed business decisions that will drive tangible outcomes.

“We make decisions around data, process, and systems, in that order. And we do it purposely,” she says. “What data do we need in order to make a good business decision to drive good business insights so we can innovate and get ahead of the curve? We have KPIs that are looking at, what are the business outcomes we’re trying to achieve? Everything has to be looked at from that lens.”

Kozik, who has a track record of building a consultative culture across multiple companies and industries, has seen the results.

“I know how this movie ends. As my folks start to show up and engage differently, we start to drive more value. These successes change the narrative with our business colleagues, and we get invited to the first meeting where we can have the greatest impact. Meanwhile, morale improves across my department. This is why I’ve been so intentional about investing in the development of consulting and marketing skills,” she says.  

There has never been a better time to be in the IT profession, and those who apply these new skills while leveraging IT’s unique end-to-end view of the enterprise are going to continue to thrive.

Dan Roberts will be leading a pre-conference workshop, “Persuasive Communication,” for CIO’s FutureIT event March 29 in Dallas. The interactive session, led in conjunction with Larry Bonfante, will focus on negotiation, diplomacy, trust-building, and more. Register here.

Business IT Alignment, IT Leadership

Networking isn’t just for holiday parties. It’s something you should do all year long and, if approached correctly, it works no matter where you are on the career ladder.

The two cardinal rules of networking, according to CIOs and career coaches, are to schedule time to do it for at least an hour every month, and to approach it as something you do to help others in addition to yourself.

Joe Topinka, a career coach with CIO Mentor in Charlotte, NC, says he was not originally a big fan of networking. “My boss encouraged me to do it back when I was in software development, and I actually resisted it,” he recalls. “I used to try to do it on Fridays, and I’d get up and start whining about it to my wife. But then I started doing it, and I’d come back energized and full of ideas.”

These days, like most people interviewed for this article, Topinka puts networking on his calendar to make sure he blocks out the time, and he advises his CIO clients to do the same.

Know you are not alone

Of course it’s critical to stay current with your contacts if you’re looking for a job, but networking goes far beyond that. Edward Wagoner, CIO of Chicago-based commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, says that attending events with other CIOs has given him a much-needed confidence boost.

Edward Wagoner, CIO, Jones Lang LaSalle

Jones Lang LaSalle

“For years I avoided networking events because I felt I didn’t belong,” he says. “I suffered from a crippling lack of self-worth.” But after sharing these feelings at conferences with other CIOs, he heard from a number who had the same issue. “I’d walk into a room and think, ‘Oh, my God, look at all these very accomplished people.’ But it turns out they were thinking the same thing. We’re more alike than I ever gave myself credit for.”

In addition to building a sense of comradery, networking helps in other ways, too. CIOs talk to each other about approaches to major projects — techniques and technologies that have or have not succeeded for them — as well as tips for working with various vendors and how to address staffing issues, among other topics.

“‘We’ is smarter than ‘me,’” says Larry Bonfante, an executive coach with CIO Bench Coach in West Nyack, NY. “The more you can surround yourself with smart people, the more you can avoid stepping into the same rabbit holes.” Plus, he says, given how quickly the industry is evolving, networking “helps you see what’s going on in the broader world.”

Ken Piddington, VP and CIO, US Silica

US Silica

In fact, networking can help keep you marketable even before you start a job search, says Jayne Mattson, a career coach and author. Talking to others can help you see how your accomplishments can transfer across industries and how you can add value to other companies. It’s also a great way to hear about other opportunities, including at companies that may be laying off in some technology areas but staffing up in others, she adds.

Some CIOs, including Ken Piddington, CIO at US Silica, use networking events to “keep recruiters warm,” by connecting with national or local IT specialists. Even if he’s not looking for a job, he might know other CIOs who are and can help get them in touch. Plus, he says, “I want to understand the different [HR] firms and where they specialize, and then I find a way to get introduced.”

Make the most of online opportunities

Most experts agree you’ll get much more out of an in-person outing. But if budget or time are tight, online conferences can work, Mattson says. If you do opt for a webinar, make sure your camera is on, and comment when you can.

“When you participate, people look at you as a go-to person, and that’s how you want to be seen,” Mattson says. “If you’re on mute and don’t look at the camera, that defeats the purpose.” And make sure to take advantage of any online networking opportunities the conference organizers provide.

The pandemic has been a boon for online conferences. Megan Duty, vice president of technology and project delivery at Puritan Life, says her time available for networking increased because she was working at home more. “I wasn’t commuting as much and felt these conferences were important,” she says.

Choose your groups carefully

Generally, Duty attends meetings that are relevant to insurance, leadership, women in technology, or those hosted by consulting groups she wants to get to know better. A lot of these forums are back in person, she says, and she traveled a lot during 2022. But she used her virtual time to figure out what the most valuable conferences were before attending in person.

Megan Duty, VP of technology and project delivery, Puritan Life Insurance Company of America

Puritan Life Insurance Company of America

Another technique, she suggests, is to tap into the people you meet. She asks professional acquaintances which groups they belong to and whether they have found value in attending their meetings or annual conferences.

JLL’s Wagoner says he selects conferences that will help him learn things he doesn’t already know, or that “challenge me to think differently.” For instance, he doesn’t need to hear that cybersecurity is important; he already knows that.

Another plus is to have inspirational speakers, like Sabina Ewing, the global CIO at Abbott Laboratories, or Danielle Brown, CIO at Whirlpool, “people I’d pay to be in the room to hear from,” Wagoner says. He explains how he was impressed by how Whirlpool, a mature manufacturing firm, knocked a tech company out of The Wall Street Journal’s “Management Top 250” list, and wanted to learn more about how it did that.

Wagoner recently hosted a group of CIOs at JLL’s Chicago corporate headquarters, and he spoke about his company’s efforts to be carbon-neutral as part of his firm’s commitment to help educate people about what it’s doing. Another speaker at that event was Dr. Nancy Tuchman, founding dean of sustainability at Loyola University Chicago, “one of the most sustainable” secondary institutions in the world, Wagoner says. “The audience was asking questions and engaging even before we asked them to.”

Ron Mathis, corporate IT operations director, Illinois Tool Works

Illinois Tool Works

Ron Mathis, operations director for information technology at Illinois Tool Works, says he needs to pick and choose which groups he belongs to because “there are many different organizations targeting my demographic; I can’t participate in all of them.” Most of his networking time and energy are spent with the Chicago chapter of the Society of Information Management (SIM), a national group for IT leaders with many local chapters. He’s also active on LinkedIn.

His counsel: “Pick one, and don’t look for an immediate ROI on your investment of time. Over time, I’ve found significant value in building a network of other people I ask for professional advice.” 

Start local and small — and do it now

Don’t wait until you need a network; you don’t know when that will happen. Instead, build it before you need it, which means now. “A good network doesn’t happen by accident,” says US Silica’s Piddington. “It has to be purposeful.”

If you’re just getting started with networking, it’s probably best to begin with local MeetUp groups, or the closest SIM chapter — in other words, something small that includes people you can keep in touch with afterward. Choose a group where you will be as comfortable as possible with your peers, and where you can give something back. Keep in mind that other attendees really do want to hear about your relevant professional experiences, both positive and negative.

Prepare questions before you go, then pick a couple of names off the agenda as people you want to talk to, and do it. Ask to meet for coffee at the conference venue or nearby (and pick up the tab), have a half-hour conversation, then ask if it’s okay to keep in touch after the conference is over. Build from there; most people remember what it’s like to be new in their role and are generous with their time.

CIO Bench Coach’s Bonfante says, “It’s not about being the most interesting person in the room; it’s about being the most interested. Ask about the people around you — what they’re doing, what they’re having problems with.”

You can also start by leveraging your existing professional social-networking contacts; Mattson is a big fan of using LinkedIn as a networking medium. Just make sure your profile is up to date.

Where to get some help

For the truly introverted or absolute beginner, you can learn the basics by doing some reading before venturing out. US Silica’s Piddington recommends Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow, and Keep Your Business Relationships, by Thom Singer.

Mattson wrote a book, You, You, Me, You, explaining how to develop and nurture professional relationships. She says she wrote the book out of frustration because people often believe they know how to do this well when, in fact, they don’t.

Give back

Once you find your tribe and are comfortable, volunteer to be a mentor, be on a panel, or lead a discussion. It helps build your brand, too, CIO Mentor’s Topinka says.

CIO Bench Coach’s Bonfante recalls when he left Pfizer and tried to keep in touch with someone who was still at the company. For a year his calls went unanswered, “and I got the hint” and stopped calling. Two years later, the person called him to ask for a favor. Bonfante did it, but as he spent time helping the guy, “I was thinking, ‘Wait, when I tried to call you, you were in witness protection, and now you want something from me?,’” Bonfante says.

Don’t be that guy.

Everyone knows something of value, but it might take some time before you’re up for genuine sharing, JLL’s Wagoner advises. “I wasn’t ready for self-reflection until a bit later in my career,” he says. It took some time to develop “the ability to look at myself critically, in the right way, and share with others, to really open up and help people.” For him, these days, networking is about being authentic as both a human being and a CIO, and that realization was the result of “a lot of coffee and a lot of angst.”

It takes some time and effort, but networking is more important than ever, especially for younger people or those new to an IT leadership role. “You’ll get out of it what you put into it,” Wagoner says. “Figure out a way to participate.”

Careers, CIO, IT Leadership, Mentoring