CIO role: 7 signs of opportunity from Dallas CIO of the Year winners

CIO role: 7 signs of opportunity from Dallas CIO of the Year winners

With the pandemic giving new meaning to the term "challenging times," winners of the 2020 Dallas CIO of the Year share why CIOs should love their jobs under these difficult circumstances

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In recent weeks, CIOs have quickly shifted gears to enable remote working and overcome unplanned technology and business challenges following the COVID-19 outbreak. While many IT organizations have faced some big hurdles recently, it's also provided IT departments an opportunity to shine and demonstrate extreme value.

We caught up with CIOs who recently won the 2020 Dallas CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards to find out why they believe CIOs should love their jobs under these trying times. The awards were presented by the Dallas CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

Encouragingly, all of these award-winning CIOs touted the opportunity presented by this worldwide crisis. Naturally, they are all aware of the challenges this pandemic is presenting, and they are in no way minimizing what we are all enduring. Rather, their responses offer hope for the future of business and technology, and the role CIOs can play. 

[ What’s next for the CIO role? Read CIO role: Everything you need to know about today’s Chief Information Officers. ]

Read on to learn how these CIOs and CTOs are making the most out of the world we now find ourselves in. 

1. Improved speed and collaboration 

Super Global Dallas CIO of the Year 

Carol Clements, CTO, Pizza Hut: “It’s such a challenging time for most businesses, but there is also so much opportunity that can come from crisis. We are bringing new services to our customers in days that used to take weeks or months, and we are seeing them have a real and immediate impact for our customers and our business. We are making decisions and overcoming obstacles at record speed. And despite being separated by physical distance (or perhaps because of it?), we are working more collaboratively than ever before. The most rewarding part is hearing from the team that the work they are doing to support our customers and front-line team members brings a sense of purpose in a time when it is otherwise difficult to figure out how to help.”

2. Boundless opportunities to transform 

Global Dallas CIO of the Year

Sherif Mityas, former Chief Experience Officer & CIO, TGIFridays: “We are all experiencing a fundamental shift in how we live, work, and play. But while there are many challenges across all organizations today, the opportunities to transform and emerge from this crisis even stronger are boundless. Many of these opportunities are rooted and will be delivered through technology. CIOs in every organization should relish this time to truly help lead their companies to the next stage of their evolution. Taking care of our employees through “digital connections” and serving our customers in a time where “touchless” and “virtual” are not just buzzwords, but requirements for business. The CIO is the central conductor of these monumental changes and is in the best position to help their organizations not only survive, but thrive as we emerge from this global pandemic.”

3. IT is taking center stage

Large Enterprise Dallas CIO of the Year

Ravi Malick, SVP & CIO, Vistra Energy: “Given the global shift to remote work, the responsibility of enabling a secure and productive experience has squarely fallen on IT. Although that transition has come with challenges, some greater than others, it has highlighted IT’s ability to leverage technology to move quickly and efficiently to effectuate change. 

CIOs should love their jobs during these unprecedented conditions because it has brought what were previously thought of as behind-the-scenes “techy” discussions to the forefront. Terms like “network performance,” “secure connectivity,” and “productivity tool sets” have become commonplace now. Organizations, departments, and teams that were first movers in adoption of cloud-based platforms have realized the benefits through a relatively smooth and easy move to remote work. Those that have taken longer, resisted change, or clung to the traditional methods of getting work done have felt a little bit more pain. 

That said, in the spirit of never letting a good crisis go to waste, the laggards are becoming fast adopters and converts out of necessity; often resulting in the acceleration of roadmap initiatives and reduction of technical debt. For us, it has further highlighted the need to think about “working from anywhere” regardless of the conditions or external events.”

4. Appreciation for the job ahead 

Enterprise Dallas CIO of the Year

Sumit Anand, Chief Strategy Officer & CIO, At Home: “Every business model in the world is trying to adjust to the new state of normalcy while balancing expectations with their employees, customers, and shareholders. CIOs have a critical role to play during this uncertainty. Apart from running the day-to-day business of technology, CIOs need to enable technology-led solutions that can help sustain and grow the top line while achieving three key goals:

  • Drive seamless integration between various business units and partners to minimize disruption
  • Design short-term solutions with a “customer first” mindset to drive ease in business lifecycle
  • Maintain a relentless focus on information security and protecting the organization from internal and external threats

This would be a challenging job under normal circumstances, but these current circumstances are anything but normal. As CIOs, we can take pride in the groundwork we've laid to support our organizations through these difficult times and appreciate that our IT departments play such a crucial role in our organization's future." 

5. Leading and enabling the future 

Large Corporate Dallas CIO of the Year

Matt Bieri, EVP & CIO, Tyler Technologies: “We are clearly in an unprecedented time where technology is finally understood to be at the core of how businesses are run and not just an afterthought. At no other time in history has it been so evident that technology is leading our businesses to the future. We are enabling new ideas to be developed and put into the market at a never-before-seen rate. We are enabling businesses to move faster, to quickly create new products for our customers and ourselves, to enhance security for our staff and our clients, all while breaking down traditional barriers. We are leading the way to a very different “new normal” – leading and enabling the future – and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

6. Opportunity to show our best

Corporate Dallas CIO of the Year

Rusty Kennington, CIO, Corsicana Mattress Company: “Without minimizing the severity and the loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, I choose to approach this situation with excitement. I believe times like these require the very best of a leader. Clearly, it tests our ability to allow our respective companies to continue to operate under challenging conditions; how well did we prepare our infrastructure, operations, processes, and people for situations like this? These are table stakes for our role. But I believe it also calls for leaders to really be there for their teams. We need to be acutely aware of the fear and uncertainty that can overwhelm our team members, their families, and others across our companies. I also believe that leaders should be the first ones to make sacrifices as we serve our teams.

I believe times like this call for a higher level of leadership and of service. I also believe they create higher levels of opportunity. In looking ahead, I am also anticipating new ways of operating as a company, new ways of functioning as a team, and ways that we take lessons and apply them to improve. It is time to lean in to this challenge and bring others along with us. I am energized by the situations that require the very best in us.” 

7. Leading under pressure 

Nonprofit/Public Sector Dallas CIO of the Year 

Tommy Alsbrooks, SVP & CIO, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas: “The COVID-19 pandemic has proven just how important the CIO role is to an organization’s ability to survive in a crisis. CIOs play a critical role in providing the necessary leadership that has enabled organizations to respond and adapt quickly to an environment that changed literally overnight. There was no forewarning of the potential depth and scale of this crisis, and many CIOs had to invent new playbooks in a matter of hours and days. CIOs were faced with redesigning IT operating models to support thousands of employees working from home, which created challenges for organizations’ enterprise telecommunications infrastructure, IT equipment procurement models, collaboration and communication, and user productivity.

Stepping up to this challenge, CIOs worked with their IT teams around the clock to redefine IT operating models and ways of working to support the needs of the business. The stress levels placed upon CIOs has been immeasurable because for many, the livelihood of their organization was hanging in the balance. We shouldn’t forget that this is what the role of the CIO calls for – leadership under pressure, which requires an unwavering commitment and love for the job. The CIO role is a job that, at times, can be thankless. But in times of crisis, such as what we’ve all witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s a job that is an integral part of the organization’s success and DNA.”

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

As community manager for The Enterprisers Project, Ginny Hamilton helps build the site's community of CIOs, IT leaders, and readers.

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