IBM was among the first companies to help shape the parameters of the IT department and the ever-evolving role of CIO, and IBM CIO Kathryn Guarini has had a front row seat to watch the role change throughout her 22-year career with the company. Prior to becoming CIO last year, Guarini was COO of the IBM Research Division, arming her with extensive experience working with emerging technology and other innovations coming from IBM.\n\n\u201cBack in around the 1950s is when the first CIO roles really emerged. And it was just beginning to be clear that technology would be a differentiator for us \u2014 IBM was advocating on behalf of our clients to elevate the role that IT leaders would play in enterprises,\u201d says Guarini.\n\nAnd elevate CIOs have. From their early days as IT operations managers, CIOs have evolved to hold a firm place in the C-suite where they now are \u201csitting at the table and influencing decisions, whether that be the investment or the strategic decisions, and reacting to those decisions by putting the right investments and priorities in place to support the needs of the business,\u201d Guarini says.\n\nWith a background working directly with some of the biggest innovations to come out of IBM, Guarini occupies a unique space at the intersection of technology and business, even among CIOs. Like most CIOs, Guarini has a strong focus on emerging technologies, sustainability, and employee experience \u2014 key facets in delivering business value to her organization. But in helming IT at IBM, she is also tasked with identifying what technologies make the most sense not only for IBM but also its CIO clients.\n\nThe evolving CIO role\n\nIn the past decade, IT has catapulted from back-office function to a vital department key to the success of nearly every business. As strategic business partners, CIOs must now ensure the organization\u2019s technology agenda is \u201cdriving the most meaningful impact to the business,\u201d says Guarini. And today that means not only having a firm grasp on business priorities and how to lead IT to achieve them but also a clear understanding that today\u2019s CIOs must make sure the tools in place are effective and don\u2019t stand in the way of employees getting their jobs done, Guarini says.\n\n\u201cWe try to bring the technology to improve the overall outcomes that we\u2019re trying to achieve, \u2026 and if we can stay focused on that user experience it usually points us in the right direction on those things that matter most,\u201d she says, adding that a large part of the role of CIO involves ensuring technology can \u201cdrive efficiencies, reduce friction, and improve user experience\u201d in the workplace.\n\nThere may be no greater example of how vital IT is to employee experience than the COVID-19 pandemic. Overnight, organizations around the globe had to pivot to remote work, whether they were prepared to or not. At IBM, which operates globally in 170 countries, the pivot to remote work was \u201crelatively seamless,\u201d says Guarini. The company had already been operating in a largely hybrid model, with flexible workplace best practices in place.\n\nBut even with a mostly seamless transition, there were still \u201cadditional requirements\u201d that the pandemic put on the IT department, Guarini says. IBM IT had to evaluate how to support that many \u201cconcurrent remote employees\u201d with networking solutions, how to manage workflows that used to take place in person with product development and incident response, and other \u201cinteresting new challenges, both technical and process\u201d that had to be dealt with due to the shift to remote work, she says.\n\nBridging the client\/vendor divide\n\nBut a key remit for today\u2019s CIOs, and one Guarini is uniquely positioned to understand, is helping organizations figure out where to make the right investments to \u201cdrive the innovation agenda,\u201d she says, adding that CIOs must \u201cshape the direction and influence the investments\u201d as they are ultimately the ones responsible for ensuring that those investments adequately support business initiatives.\n\nHere, Guarini operates in an interesting nexus \u2014 she is CIO of IBM, but as CIO, she\u2019s also an IBM client.\n\n\u201cI am using the same technology that IBM develops and brings to our clients. And I want to be a few years ahead of where our clients are. I want to be an early adopter of that technology, help to validate it, make it better, demonstrate how it can scale, and meet the kind of challenges of a large-scale complex enterprise like IBM. When it can work for IBM, it will work for our clients as well,\u201d she says.\n\nKey to prioritizing emerging technology, Guarini says, is being able to sift through the noise and identify technology that will be valuable to the organization. Here, the CIO leans on her experience in the research arm of IBM, where evaluating trends to identify technology that will impact business was a central facet of the job.\n\n\u201cI think both automation and AI offer so much promise,\u201d she says. \u201cAnd we are beginning already to realize that promise and to see the benefits. But it\u2019s not the technology in isolation \u2014 we need to think about \u2018how do we marry that technology with the business process and the opportunity to really drive something that\u2019s of value\u2019?\u201d\n\nFor example, IBM has deployed automation software such as Turbonomic, Red Hat Ansible Tower, and Konveyor Tackel to handle various aspects of IT automation to improve reliability, efficiency, and scale, while also cutting down on human interactions with IT systems. The company has also embraced IBM robotic process automation (RPA) across several business areas, including management, finance, compliance, and procurement, ultimately reducing manual labor by 234,000 hours and minimizing the risks that can come from human error. They have also used RPA to automate invoice processing, to link system identities, to verify access requests, to notify managers for approval, and to spot potential conflicts with assigned duties across different users.\n\nIBM has also deployed bots to help HR employees manage tasks such as job changes, department transfers, and salary adjustments. Chatbots are also being used to improve IT support, answer simple questions, manage customer feedback, and manage invoicing. The company has also integrated AI into its pricing process to remove inconsistencies or inherent bias. Since deploying AI for customer support issues, Guarini says IBM has seen a 26% reduction in time-to-resolution of customer support cases. \n\nAdopting emerging technologies at IBM\n\nHaving come from the IBM Research Division, which consists of around 3,000 technical scientists and engineers who help shape the future of AI, cybersecurity, quantum computing, and hybrid cloud, Guarini knows a lot must happen between identifying transformational technology and deploying it. And that responsibility is even more important when internally vetting emerging technology as an enterprise IT provider \u2014 because as any client CIO knows, no matter how promising a technology may be, there are several hurdles to clear before it can be adopted and deployed at enterprise scale.\n\n\u201cWe have ideas of what technology should do, but sometimes the complexity of deploying some of this technology becomes more challenging than we anticipated in a design dreaming session. When we begin to deploy it as an early adopter, a sponsor user, or an anchor client; that\u2019s when we can figure out what it will take to make this work in practice in a real-life environment. And that\u2019s really powerful,\u201d she says.\n\nGuarini feels her research background makes her more likely to \u201cpartner with IBM\u2019s R&D functions, to leverage emerging technologies at scale, and to question how we can drive innovation into our agenda,\u201d she says. She finds herself in a \u201cunique position to be able to validate enterprise IT use cases,\u201d while also ensuring that the IT department itself is an \u201cearly adopter of IBM\u2019s own innovations,\u201d which can ultimately help make the company\u2019s solutions even better.\n\nMoreover, sharing with IBM customers these real-life use-cases of IBM technology in action at scale helps \u201cdemonstrate what\u2019s possible, brings credibility to our offerings, and builds confidence with our clients and partners,\u201d says Guarini, who has also launched a blog, Making IT Real, where she details the various technologies IBM has embraced and how they\u2019ve helped the organization.\n\n\u201cI\u2019ve both learned a lot and been able to bring a new perspective based on my experience in the rest of the company. Certainly, the challenge of meeting the unique needs of our large, complex enterprise means that not all innovations are ready for large-scale production deployment. That\u2019s okay. It\u2019s been instructive to experiment with emerging technologies and determine what\u2019s suitable for our needs and where we can provide feedback to enhance solutions,\u201d she says.