If you\u2019re a CIO and would like to be interviewed for our special U.K. vs. U.S. CIO Master series please get in touch.\nAt first, stepping onto the campus of Oxford University\u2019s Sa\u00efd Business School, opposite the Oxford train station, is like stepping into an experience. Designed by Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones, who also designed the London Opera House, the campus delicately blends classical outdoor architectural design, complete with amphitheater, columns and cloisters and oak paneled theaters, with a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Oxford dreaming spires.\nAs I wait for Mark Bramwell, Oxford Sa\u00efd\u2019s CIO, in the open plan atrium, there\u2019s a continuous throng of students from all over the world proudly taking photos of themselves in front of the school\u2019s emblem, and there\u2019s a feeling that both the building and the institution seem balanced \u2014 classically influenced marble surfaces meet selfies and Twitter.\nFounded in 1996, the school is already one of the world\u2019s highest ranked business schools, competing head to head with prestigious institutions like Harvard, Stanford and MIT Sloan. This year, its MBA program was ranked sixth best in the world outside of the U.S., and the institution was ranked among the top 10 business schools in the world for its open and executive MBA programs. From my discussion with\u00a0Bramwell, it\u2019s clear that the school\u2019s success is the result of an entrepreneurial culture and the strong sense of community that the institution fosters both at home and abroad.\nIn plain sight\nAs we navigate our way through the campus, one of the first things I learn is that Bramwell moved the IT support desk to an office that's next to the main reception area. While at first this might sound like a tactical or trivial move, it is in fact the first sign of his deeper strategy, because it brings IT support, a function that many organizations are all too happy to hide, out of the shadows and into direct contact with the stakeholders. Providing personable face-to-face support it just one benefit of this new move. Its real purpose is to help bring users and IT closer together so they can learn from one another and create better business outcomes.\nUsing an analogy,\u00a0Bramwell tells me that he doesn\u2019t want a team of waiters, whose purpose is just to serve, as is so often the case with IT departments. He wants a team of ma\u00eetre d\u2019s and sommeliers, individuals who can anticipate their users\u2019 needs, make recommendations and provide a valuable personalized service.\nAs with many IT organizations, Bramwell\u2019s operation sits horizontally across the business, which elevates it into the position of being a department that has a genuine holistic oversight and freedom to roam; this freedom, which is also a responsibility, is one of the key components that\u00a0Bramwell hopes will make Sa\u00efd Business School even more successful in the future. No single department has all of the answers to all of an organization's challenges or conundrums, and it\u2019s only by working together that individual business units can help an organization thrive.\nNew world frontiers\nEvery academic institution is being disrupted and attacked on all fronts. On one hand, technology has helped new and old adversaries alike open up new routes to market and extend their reach. On the other, new and emerging business operating models and paradigms are forcing business schools to rewrite and iterate their programs at a rate they\u2019ve never experienced before.\nWith every challenge though comes opportunity, and for forward-thinking organizations like Oxford Sa\u00efd, the question is less about how to defend the core business and more about how to take advantage of new trends. Bramwell, better perhaps than anyone else, knows that technologically the school can\u2019t stand still.\nThe concept of the borderless organization is nothing new, it\u2019s been with us for a decade or so. But new cloud-, digital- and mobile-enabled business models, combined with a drastic fall in the cost of creating a new business, mean that it's now easier than ever for anyone to venture into new markets and disrupt established incumbents.\nCompanies like GE and Unilever, which never before offered business education and MBA programs, are increasingly trying to encroach on the elite business schools\u2019 markets by offering a mix of both on-premises and off-premises education programs -- the latter more often than not being delivered by what has come to be known by the acronym MOOC, which stands for massive open online courses. Hundreds of thousands of students can enroll and participate in MOOCs, and as the quality of these programs rises, it\u2019s easy to see why elite business schools like Oxford Sa\u00efd and Harvard may feel as though they\u2019re under siege.\nBramwell sees that there are places for both types of business models in Oxford Sa\u00efd\u2019s portfolio, and he believes that there will always be a place for bespoke, on-premises executive education programs that provide a learning experience that online alternatives simply can never match. Similarly, there\u2019s also an option and a place for leveraging the technology of MOOCs; for example, it\u2019s impractical to fly 3,000 executives into the U.K. to take part in a training program. Even though Bramwell\u2019s attitude may seem like a sensible one, it is in fact a crucial one that\u2019s all too often understated.\nIn today\u2019s world, the amount of choice and variety, all of which are principally underpinned by technology components, is increasing and the real skill, one that\u00a0Bramwell seems to have a superb grasp of, is how individuals and organizations can harness what\u2019s available to create business advantage, even in the face of adversity.\nMeanwhile, Bramwell\u2019s take on technology might also take many people by surprise. Ironically, he doesn\u2019t believe that technology is a differentiator, it\u2019s the way that the course materials are curated and the quality of the learning experience that matters the most. Learning is a personal engagement, and every one of us has our own individual learning style, whether that\u2019s on-premises, off-premises, tablet or laptop. Excelling at delivering that superlative experience is the one that\u00a0Bramwell and his team are focused on supporting.\nThe supplier world\nAs we begin to discuss the topic of suppliers, I can see a glint in Bramwell\u2019s eye. Arguably the supplier-client relationship should be one of the more valuable relationships that an IT department has. As we continue our conversation, I wonder if there\u2019s a place for a supplier education course within Oxford Sa\u00efd\u2019s curriculum, because I\u2019m sure that, curated properly, it\u2019d be a popular one.\nBramwell\u00a0believes that there are two distinct trends in supplier markets. The first is the huge rationalization, streamlining and consolidation of Tier 1 companies. The second is the explosion in the number of new vendors and startups. Although each market has its pros and cons, one of his main challenges is simply being able to differentiate between the experts and those who are good, poor or just plain bad.\nBramwell\u00a0describes his role as 80% relationship and 20% technology. And while he says that he has almost always found walking around the faculty offices, the halls and the canteens engaging because it allows him to listen and learn from the stakeholders who rely on his department, it doesn\u2019t appear that the same can be said for many of his suppliers. This is something that Bramwell recognizes and is actively trying to address by encouraging his most strategic partners to spend time at the school so they can understand, see and experience the importance and impact of the products and services they provide.\nAs executives who work for suppliers know, it's vitally important that their client-facing sales teams be able to tailor and personalize the benefits that their particular portfolio of offerings will have to both individuals and to the client organizations.\u00a0 Simply regurgitating sales collateral pro rata won\u2019t do much for your credibility.\nIt took me just a few minutes to understand that\u00a0Bramwell is focused on helping Oxford Sa\u00efd deliver a better learning experience, that he doesn\u2019t see technology as a differentiator and that he wants to understand what investments will help the school advance the furthest. In one fell stroke, for vendors who listen rather than tell, those are the keys to how you become relevant.\nBramwell says that he is demanding but fair with suppliers, driven by his high service expectations. If he has kindly blocked out an hour in his day for you, it\u2019s unlikely that he\u2019s going to want to hear the usual industry spiel even though that\u2019s almost always what he gets.\nBig data, the cloud, digital, IT as a service (ITaaS) and mobile \u2014 it\u2019s funny how every meeting seems to revolve around those topics, irrespective of the conversation flow. And during every meeting, he\u2019ll ask basic questions such as \u201cWhat is digital and what does it mean for you?\u201d By his own admission, he doesn\u2019t feel that any of the suppliers get it right, and based on my own conversations, I\u2019d have to agree with him.\nCloud computing is ostensibly your service provisioned from someone else\u2019s computer. Digital has existed since the advent of the first computer program, and mobile is simply something you listen to or eyeball. As for ITaaS, another popular industry term,\u00a0Bramwell argues that IT is a vital part of the business so while many suppliers would like to dumb it down to just simple service provision, the real value of IT lies in enabling the business, and that requires engagement, collaboration and understanding \u2014 things that can\u2019t be downloaded over the internet from an obscure offshore data center.\nCompartmentalized, undeveloped and without context, technology is essentially useless. But when it\u2019s combined with innovation, vision and purpose, it\u2019s the foundation that can differentiate your business or turn an industry on its head. In many cases, it can be said that the suppliers that\u00a0Bramwell meets already have the tools he\u2019s looking to use or deploy. What they haven\u2019t taken time to curate, though, are the answers to how they will help take the business further.\nConclusion\nThe CIO\u2019s role is more relevant than it has ever been, but more often than not it\u2019s the individual that makes the role and not the other way round. Entrepreneurial CIOs like\u00a0Bramwell \u2014 who lead from the front and by example, who believe that they and their teams are there to enable the business and help it create competitive advantage rather than to just support it \u2014 are often the pioneers that help ensure an organization prospers.