by Edward Qualtrough

Culture trumps any new style of IT, says Telefonica Spain CIO

Aug 07, 20143 mins
IT LeadershipIT StrategyTelecommunications Industry

Director of development services and CIO of Telefonica in Spain, Cristina Alvarez Alvarez, believes cultural change and customer interactions will drive greater business transformation than any “new style of IT”.

Alvarez was speaking to CIO UK columnist Ade McCormack, discussing the role of the CIO, why culture is the biggest factor in business change, and technological and economic disruption.

“For me ‘the new style of IT’ is about IT orchestrating the business transformation and working IT and the business as a single engine,” she said.

“We need to understand the business and how we can contribute to both improvement and change, creating new capabilities to be more competitive. All these technologies: cloud, BYOD and mobile are key parts of this transformation and of course they are going to be useful.

“But for me the new style is much deeper and related to cultural and internal transformations around our customers because they are our business.”

Alvarez said that Telefonica’s strategy was to be a digital telco involved in machine-to-machine, ehealth and cloud computing. And although it was a crowded market with many players, she argued Telefonica’s customer base of millions and large research and development teams give the organisation the capabilities to compete.

“We are combining our know-how in communications with the digital services enabled by technologies such as cloud, security and M2M,” she said.

“This new digital world needs bandwidth and communications and we are well positioned to go a step further with this new digital telco model.”

Alvarez, who worked for nine years at Vodafone in Spain in various technical posts including roles as CIO, Director of Product Engineering, and Director of New Business, also said that the occupier of the C-suite technology seat should be an orchestrator who is also an enabler for company transformation.

“CIOs must educate the organisation in respect of the organisational advantages associated with new technologies,” she said. “Increasingly the CIO needs to be at the heart of the business; making things happen.”

However, Alvarez noted that the CIO role wasn’t without its pitfalls. These, she said, primarily came in the form of project failure and a lack of recognition or appreciation at board level for the achievements of the leading technology executive and their team.

“The role of CIO is a tough position because you become famous when you have failures. People tend to recognise business success but do not appreciate the technology challenges of providing modern IT services with a legacy architecture,” she said.

“Again we have an obligation to educate to the rest of the board about the underlying complexity and the impact of continuous change. We also need to push the board to understand how new technology can be used to create a more agile and flexible operating model.”