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Microsoft IT head’s advice for the smart CIO: Think big

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Tim Hynes, head of IT for Microsoft EMEA, has a question for his fellow CIOs: “What type of conversations do you imagine you’d need to be having with your chief executive, before they’d invite you to take a regular place at the boardroom table?”

It’s a rhetorical question, he says, because for many IT heads, the opportunity to get a hearing at that level simply won’t arise. Theissues that occupy thetime and attention of most IT heads aren't ones that interest the senior executive team: maintaining and extending core infrastructure; rolling out line-of-business applications; the systems integration work that stitches everything together.

“Here’s the point,” says Hynes. “Your CEO doesn’t want to talk about those things. Neither does your CFO. What they want to do is have business-value conversations. All they care about is the difference you can make to their business.”

“I was recently talking to the CEO of a huge multinational company, a household name, and do you know what he told me? He said: “IT people are among the dumbest smart people I’ve ever met. They make things too hard for themselves.’ And he’s right, he’s absolutely right. Thereare far too many IT leaders struggling for relevance in their own organisation, just because they’re focusing on the wrong things.”

Hynes isn't dismissing thepressures that most IT heads face. He knows them only too well: in a 25-year career, he says, “I’ve done most of the jobs you can do in IT.” His last role at Microsoft was a global infrastructure role, running all IT systems outside of the company’s global headquarters in Redmond, Washington. These systems supported around 90,000 employees worldwide and Hynes headed up a team of 400 people over 42 countries. He took up his current role in January 2013, because it gives him, he says, the opportunity “to go deeper in my conversations with customers and to understand the challenges they face.”

The biggest of these challenges, he says, is IT’s battle to be considered ‘relevant’, even at a time when

digitisation of busines

s processes means that all organisations are using more technology than ever before. It’s an anomaly, he says - but it’s also a direct result of IT’s fixation on systems, apps and integration, rather than strategic innovation.

They need to think big, Hynes urges. “When CIOs talk about transforming their organisation to meet the new challenges they face, they’re talking about the challenges they’re already facing today. The smart CIO is trying to figure out about the challenges their organisation will face in two or three years’ time and organising today for that. That’s the key: you need to try and get a few steps ahead.”

“And the only way to do that is to free your mindshare from those three traditional concerns of IT,” he continues. “You’ve got to free your time up from all that, so you can focus on transformation from an organisational perspective, getting more from your data, establishing faster project turnaround times.”

“You need to think differently - but in order to be able to do that, you’ve got to let go of the past and free up the time of your smartest people, too. They need to be looking at, for example, at how cloud infrastructure could be used to relieve some of the burden of systems management. They need to be developing an IT architecture that allows people in the business to self-provision the IT that they need , where appropriate.”

The trouble is that most CIOs have their noses so permanently up against the grindstone that they’ve no opportunity to think about big data, or consider introducing dev/ops practices or even extending their use of cloud infrastructures.

“You need to back up and take a look around,” he says. “You need to have the confidence to say, ‘I’m first and foremost a business leader. IT is the way I enable the business.”

Tim Hynes will present '

The Digital Business Pyramid: Creating a Digital Enterprise – Implications and Opportunities

' as part of the Digital Transformation Summit at IP EXPO Europe