Peer networking: The importance for CIOs and other IT leaders
Business Management

Peer networking: The importance for CIOs and other IT leaders

The importance of technology within organizations has done many things; most of all, it has made a range of companies aware of the power and importance that a chief information officer (CIO) or equivalent has in an organization. It’s for this reason that IT leaders are bombarded with requests to attend an event, sign-up to a webinar or register for whitepapers and analyst insights.

But, despite the growing number of ways that IT leaders have to gain knowledge and insight that can help them in their roles, there is one way which CIOs, chief digital officers, chief technology officers and others all continue to say is helpful – and perhaps most beneficial to them – and that is the peer network.

The most obvious way that the peer network is used as an advantage, is as Laura Meyer, CIO of publishing company HarperCollins states, to understand what others are doing, what is working and what isn’t working.

“It’s important to be connected and have a peer network; talking to people about what they’re doing [in their organizations] is a great way to find information,” she says.

Cindy Fedell, CIO of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, part of the UK’s NHS network, suggests that this gives the IT leader in question the ability to assess where the organization stands in regards to IT maturity in a benchmarking kind of approach.

Often, those new to the role of being a c-level executive that has the final say in IT purchasing decisions look for inspiration from people who have been CIOs or CDOs for a number of years.

Fin Goulding, international CIO at global insurance company Aviva, and previously CIO of betting company Paddy Power, says that in the last month he has met three CIOs who have reached out to him.

“Perhaps it’s because they like what I’m doing from an internal disruptive perspective, but also from a guidance point of view they’re new CIOs and want to speak to someone who has been CIO for some time,” he states.

For Goudling, and perhaps other CIOs in larger organizations, there may not even be a need to look outside of the business because there are many different CIOs in other regions and local areas to talk to.

“I normally reach out within my organization because we have some great CIOs globally that have some great experience,” says Goulding.


An expanding peer network

While going to more experienced CIOs and using many of the methods they’ve deployed is perhaps the most common reason for IT leaders to start building up a peer network, there are many other reasons for such a network, and the peer network itself isn’t necessarily restricted to the exact same job-type as the post-holder in question.

For example, Goulding says that he has recently been speaking to agile coaches from large banks to get advice on how to attract agile coaches to Aviva. In addition, CEOs often get in touch with him to get advice for when they’re trying to transform their organizations.

Collaboration is another big reason for CIOs and CDOs in the public sector to engage with one another.

“The mindset has shifted a bit now; whereas before a fellow NHS trust would have told me ‘we’re doing this cool thing at the moment’ and I would think about bringing that to my trust, I would now say ‘great, can we join?’,” says Fedell.

Meanwhile, London’s first ever chief digital officer Theo Blackwell explains that he regularly meets with the CDOs of Manchester, Leeds and the CDO and CTO of Scotland.

“There’s a network between us, we’re regularly in contact and we think there is an opportunity among metro mayors to put across a big agenda around digital transformation and evolution and we’re working with them to put forward a proposition to government,” Blackwell says.

Fedell also says that she often looks beyond the NHS and outside of the health sector completely, and advises other CIOs to do the same. This is because often there are projects in other industries that can be repurposed for health.

Meanwhile, Blackwell has extended his peer network outside of the UK. A partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropy enables him to have a global network of CDOs to speak to. For example, he has met with the CDO of New York, and has the opportunity to learn more from the executives behind digital work in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.

But while CIOs, CDOs and CTOs may have a lot in common – and can learn from each other’s experiences, this isn’t the case for all IT leaders. Chief nursing information officers (CNIOs) roles, for example, are all extremely different, according to Fedell.

“What one CNIO does in one NHS trust varies greatly to what one does in another trust, and while the core of what they’re about is safety, the edges of all the roles get quite different and there isn’t really a coherent description of what they do,” she says.

“It’s a place that we need to grow in terms of a peer network,” she adds.

While it is difficult for IT leaders to fit networking into their schedule, it is something that they all try to do.

“It’s quite challenging [to fit in] but it is also very rewarding,” says Mark Holt, chief technology officer (CTO) at Trainline, the leading European rail ticket retailer.

But Holt suggests that IT leaders also have responsibility to ensure their employees are also networking among their peers.

“I’ll constantly talk to my team about what events they’ve been to and what events they’re speaking at. I think it’s all about creating that conversation, that opportunity to meet people and increase diversity [of what we’re doing in the organization],” he says.

“Innovation is diversity; the more you can find out about what different companies are doing, how they’re doing it, what the people are like there and what tech they’re using – it’s essential,” he adds.


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Sooraj Shah

Sooraj Shah is a freelance technology journalist whose key focus is on how IT leaders are transforming their organisations using emerging technology. 

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