by Divina Paredes

Futurist Chris Riddell on why businesses need to turn their tech teams into rockstars

Feb 21, 2018
Big DataBusiness IntelligenceCareers

If you are looking to reduce costs and the first area going is your technology department, you are on a very slippery road down to the bottom Chris Riddell

“Whatever industry you are in, whatever organisation you have, whatever it is your business does, you are in the business of technology,” says global futurist Chris Riddell.

“We are all now in the business of technology.”

Different businesses have different structures, he points out.

But he says all of the organisations he has worked with make sure they create IT departments that are ‘rock stars’.

“Amplify the capability, the talent of your technology department,” he states. “Make them to as visible as they can to the business.

“Let the business know what your IT division can do. Move them away from the business of just fixing your laptop.

“These people are critical to what we do, to how we help grow our business.”

Executive support is crucial to make this happen, Riddell states.

“It is hard,” he says, for some CIOs and their teams. “You are going against the culture that has been built decades where that has not been the case.”

“We came from an era where technology was a back office function, being in the base of the business or hidden in the corner of the offices.

The way to get through that is time…and persistence,” he says.

“I have been in organisations where that has been a big issue. The finance head does not see IT as an enabler to the business, they see it as an overhead.

“So when they have to reduce cost, the first area they go to is the IT division.

“That is a big mistake,” he stresses.

“In 2018, if you are looking to reduce costs and the first area going is your technology department, you are on a very slippery road down to the bottom. It is going to spell out disaster for you.

At the same time he is encouraging IT leaders to behave like entrepreneurs, “a bit like startups, like they are working in a new business”.

Use the same business language – “not the language technology people use” – when they are talking to other executives like the CFO, CMO and the Board.

IT leadership historically has been around providing lots of processes and safety decisioning around processes, he states.

If the business wants a new system, like a sales system, the IT department will say, ‘Oh no, it is going to take nine months to do, it will cost $3.5 million.

‘We will need to capture requirements, more people.’

“That does not work because if you don’t help them, the business will go out.”

“The most dangerous thing that exists now is a credit card,” he says.

With the business corporate credit card in marketing departments, staff can log on to so many websites and sign up for cloud sharing environment, everything from Dropbox to Salesforce.

“They can do this without you.

“If you don’t behave differently and enable them to get what they want, they will use their corporate credit card to do what they want without you being involved.”

Riddell’s previous roles include being the first chief digital officer at Mars in Australia and New Zealand, working on brands that Mars, Maltesers, MasterFoods and Dolmio.

The CDO role was part of how much the technology part of the business has changed over the years, he says, reflecting on the role.

“Technology used to be siloed. It did not have a strong function and it did not have the strong business focus that it has now,” says Riddell.

“It was purely about infrastructure, hardware, laptops, servers and cables.”

IT and technology used to be considered a cost and overhead in the business and now very much, it is about helping to grow the business and be a business partner, he says

“Technology is also helping the business to be more efficient, reducing bottom line costs and also having a true seat at the table, when it comes to leadership of the organisation.

“We used to see IT directors and CIOs very much reporting to finance leaders, to CFOs. We have started to see a big shift over the past few years.

“ICT leaders are now true co-pilots of the business.

“High volatility, high uncertainty, they are the new normal for us. You have got to behave differently.

“It is, honestly,the most exciting time to be a CIO, CTO or a CDO,” says Riddell.

“Understand that you [the CIO] are the most important person now and this is your time.”

“Whatever industry you are in, whatever it is your business does, you are in the business of technology.”

Technology futurist and digital evangelist Chris Riddelltalked about ‘emerging trends in our hyperconnected world’ at the Umbrellar Live 2018in Auckland.