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Q&A: How CIOs can drive value for their organisation

When it comes to implementing new technology, Eric Johnson - CIO at digital transaction management company DocuSign - likes to keep things simple and concentrate on what drives value for the organisation.

We spoke to him about the changing role of the CIO, future trends to watch and how to justify IT spend to the C-suite.

How long have you been in your current role?

I have been working with DocuSign for just over 18 months (since September 2014). An important aspect of my job is to make it as easy as possible for the entire company to do theirs, and that means implementing technology that will streamline and speed up global business as much as possible.

How do you see your role developing in five years’ time?

I think we will see a shift towards the CIO role becoming more business-oriented, with less of a focus on technical outcomes in isolation. In terms of implementations, for instance, we could see a move towards rolling out custom technology that supports particular company objectives or product innovation.

IT organisations are increasingly building solutions that not only support their company’s strategies but can also be packaged and incorporated into new products to be sold to other companies. If this trend continues, we may see a broadening of the CIO role to incorporate a closer relationship with the sales and product departments.

How do your particular areas of expertise manifest themselves in your current role?

I come from a supply chain, enterprise applications and consulting background, so I often look at the IT department through this lens. For me, the IT department should act as an internal consulting team that delivers solutions to difficult cross-functional challenges and needs in the company.

My experience also means that I understand IT must deliver on the projects and solutions we choose to implement. Far too often, the department does not have the correct methodology in place to develop a concept into an optimised solution - instead of focusing on solving the problem, we end up distracted by the technology itself.

What advice would you give to someone adopting a CIO role for the first time?

Take the time to cultivate strong interdepartmental relationships. Effective communication with the business at large is the best way to develop an insight into people’s working habits and establish how best to facilitate them.

How would you describe your relationship with technology?

While my relationship with technology has developed and changed significantly throughout my career, using it as a tool to deliver the best possible results has always remained the most important aspect. My relationship with tech is also very much dependent upon that of my colleagues, and whether the solutions we have in place actually help other people in the business to do their jobs better.

Finally, it is not monogamous! I try to avoid falling in love with a particular type or brand of technology and maintain a cynical view - if a combination of different solutions will do a better job than an individual one, then so be it.

With that in mind, are there any current trends that IT professionals should be particularly aware of?

Rather than getting caught up in the excitement surrounding particular trends, a CIO should be able to cut through the hype and identify the specific implementations that will deliver tangible business results. Stay focused on how you can use technology to solve the specific problems of your organisation and the people that work within it, rather than blindly following trends that may not be applicable.

How do you think a CIO can best support company revenue growth?

It’s essential for a CIO to understand what the specific drivers are for delivering revenue growth. But before that, they need to take a step back and examine how growth is measured. Then they can look for opportunities to move these metrics in a positive way. The IT department is often asked to work on a wide variety of business initiatives, which makes it easy to be distracted from key growth drivers and opportunities. My job is to ensure my team is continually aligned with critical business goals, and that all our efforts are focused there.

Justifying IT spend to the C-suite can often be a challenge - can you provide us with an example of how you would demonstrate ROI to the board following a tech roll-out?

Demonstrating ROI is actually deceptively simple – if it saves money, makes money or is in support of a strategic initiative that the board or C-suite is driving, then the investment is usually justifiable.

As long as you have clear targets and agree on how success will be measured, before implementation, the CIO should be in a strong position to rationalise technology spend.

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