by Mark Chillingworth

CIOs seeking innovation bring work back to the UK

May 20, 20125 mins
IT Strategy

Given the amount of woe surrounding the world economy at present there are some that are surprised by the positivity within the Harvey Nash 2012 CIO Survey. At last week’s London launch event, discussion revealed there is concrete to this positive outlook – demand.
The Harvey Nash survey headline focused on the need for organisations to move their technology strategy towards growth. With customer and worker demand for greater mobility CIOs across the world are being given greater budgets and told to shift their focus away from cost cuts to innovation, especially in mobile. 

CEOs demand CIO prepare for growth and mobility

Some key discussion points came out from the launch event for the survey: skills, mobility, the economy, gender, insourcing and strategy. So let’s take a look at each of these and what was discussed. 
Lead panel speaker was Marks and Spencer CIO Darrell Stein. A passionate speaker Stein exhibited his usual no nonsense approach, telling attending CIOs: “You have to believe you can fix the skills gap & go & do it. No reason why we can’t do it”. 
Challenged by BBC CIO Tiffany Hall that the IT curriculum is too dull to encourage kids to be interested in IT, Stein agreed, but also demanded everyone rise to the challenge. 
“There are too many reasons why we can’t, just do it. That is right [curriculum], but there are not the barriers, just do it,” Stein said. Marks & Spencer under Stein has created IT graduate recruitment positions, as have rival retailers and banking groups. 
On a related topic, Stein’s plans to in-house parts of his IT operations back from India to the UK. A team of 50 developers are being put together at Stein’s office to speed up innovation, which in turn is in response to the economy speeding up, the CIO told the audience. Going by Twitter activity it was a thought provoking announcement to many attendees, but something we hear often at CIO UK. 
“It is very difficult to get innovation and the costs are harder to find with Indian inflation, speed and partnership are the big issues. Unit cost may be higher in the UK, but ultimately” explained Stein, before adding that parts of his supply chain operations are also coming back in-house. 
Victoria Davison, Marsh insurance group COO agreed, saying in her observations the wage arbitrage of India still exists, but not to the level it was and she too believes that innovation is the main reason to bring work back to the UK.
Mobility is cited by the Harvey Nash survey as the engine of rapid change and the CIOs on the panel agreed. 
William Payne, CIO with waste and recycling provider Veolia backed the move to onshore and in-house: “For UK plc there is an opportunity to build some good quality outsource operation that is offered to other organisations and markets.” 
M&S CIO Stein said he is “seeing challenges from staff as a result of what they can do on the iPhone.” 
Group M CIO John Donnarumma quipped, “Who thought a search engine & hardware firm with a piece of fruit on it would own mobile space?” He went on to admit consumerisation is a “pressure point” for the advertising company CIO. But as ever, a pressure point is an opportunity for CIOs. 
“The business wants us to lead and organise on consumerisation and on governance,” Donnarumma said. 
The panel and all attendees via an instant poll agreed the smartphone is the technology that can deliver growth. Response to tablet devices was tepid. 
In-house strategies and mobility put a positive note on the evening, but no CIO speaking or attending avoided the reality of the world economy. 
Stein used the demise of the Clinton Cards chain last week to outline how hard the high street is for retailers. Payne added it’s been a tough couple of years for Veolia, telling the audience that his company sees what does and doesn’t go in the waste bins and thus providing a view of the economy. 
Payne and his organisation though have used situation to their benefit. 
“Local authority austerity is an opportunity for Veolia, they are opening the door to new ideas,” he said. “Existing customers have never been as important as they are now.” 
For the 2012 survey Harvey Nash analysed the state of women in IT and women CIOs, as CIO reported. Davison of Marsh when questioned on the problem suggested that organisations needed to consider women from outside of IT to take up IT leadership roles. This agrees with the findings of the survey that showed women’s communications and soft skills are required by organisations. 
“The CIO is a business person, they understand operation pressure of the business, it is not the domain of network guys,” Payne said of CIOs not needing to be major technology experts. “By understanding the pain you open the door to be involved in strategy”. 
Harvey Nash will of course call for CIOs to be positive, invest, and recruit, it’s good for their business, but to have a panel of CIOs tell the audience of CIOs under lined the gradual move to investment that is taking place. Of most interest to me as an Editor was to hear the clamour increase around the debate for better training, more jobs and more local development and intellectual property taking place. 
These things take time, but it will be interesting to see how the CIO community responds to the 2013 CIO Survey.