CIO Spotlight: Deidre Jonelle Cousins, GraceKennedy Ltd

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? "Business and artificial intelligence is one of the key drivers of efficiency and overall improved performance..."

cio spotlight deidre jonelle cousins gracekennedy ltd
GraceKennedy Ltd

Name: Deidre Jonelle Cousins

Company: GraceKennedy Ltd (GKL)

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: August 2018

Location: Kingston, Jamaica

Deidre Cousins joined GraceKennedy in 2008 and has held various positions, including Group IT Audit Manager, Business Development Manager and most recently, Chief Information Officer for GraceKennedy Limited. She has a passion for the continuous development of professional talent and knowledge sharing of best practices, and has contributed to the improvement of business processes and governance structures for IT, Security and Risk & Compliance in both public and private sector environments.

What was your first job? My first job was as an Auditor for the General’s Department of Jamaica.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I originally wanted to work in business management and the law. With my decision to pursue a master’s degree, IT was paramount not only because it is instrumental in shaping the future of organisations and our lives, but back then there was an alignment gap with IT and management and I believed that a keen understanding of management information systems would be relevant to organisations and a marketable career option.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I received a Master of Science Degree in Management Information Systems (with honours), and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management Studies (with honours), both from the University of the West Indies. I also have a Bachelor of Law Degree (with honours) from the University of London.

I hold the following certifications: Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Systems Manager (CISM), Certified Risk & Information Systems Control (CRISC), and Prosci Change Management Certificate Program.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started out in auditing, specifically financial, operational, and performance auditing.Then I moved into IT auditing for information systems and IT security. From auditing, I moved into business development, and then transitioned to management of information systems and risk management, taking on the role of vice president of IT. Now, I am the chief information officer for my organisation.

As my career progressed, I became increasingly interested in the important role IT plays in modern businesses, and as such I made it a point to embrace opportunities to expand my IT knowledgebase and focus on how technology is best used as an enabler to help businesses achieve their strategic and operational objectives. I did not take any detours; however, I decided to study law to enhance my skillset.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Business and artificial intelligence is one of the key drivers of efficiency and overall improved performance which we will see over time. However, optimising and leveraging our existing technology will be a critical focus in the coming year to achieve return on investments.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? In this ever-changing global environment, and one in which there are many opportunities for business growth, it is a priority that IT supports the business strategy to provide best-in-class solutions, and to ensure that the current systems are stable, available and secure.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Successful businesses are proactive and adaptable. All executives, CIOs included, should likewise be proactive and adaptable. Traditionally, CIOs are responsible for IT strategy and supporting the business in whatever way is required. I believe those two tenets of most CIO roles remain just as important today, as they always have.

It’s less about who is responsible for what, and more about ensuring that all stakeholders are clear on their respective roles and encouraged to work collaboratively with each other to the benefit of the organisation. 

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? No, digital transformation is led by our strategic management team, but IT is expected to influence and play a significant role in executing various digital transformation-related initiatives.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We have a clear strategic goal focused on improving customer experience, operational efficiency and organisational culture using technology as an underpinning for success in those areas. As a result, KPIs in these areas have been developed to measure success.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? A good culture fit is one in which there is clear communication and alignment of the company strategy and each employee is engaged and knows their role to collectively achieve our shared goals.

One very important way to cultivate culture fit is to be transparent with all levels of staff, allowing them to play a role in devising and actioning key strategic initiatives. Doing so helps ensure team members are engaged and motivated.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Information security roles are in great demand and it is often difficult to fill and retain people in such roles — especially where qualified individuals have a wealth of operational expertise. It’s important to invest in people so that they can gain the experience and skills needed for these jobs.

ISACA’s Next Decade of Tech research found that 81 percent of respondents believe that enterprises are not investing enough in the people skills needed to successfully navigate the changing landscape of this decade.

What's the best career advice you ever received? I have had many mentors who didn’t really know they were my mentors, and who have given me great advice. However, a quote by Steve Jobs really made an impact, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. It is a requirement of the company that succession plans are developed to train high performing staff and to create opportunities for growth for both the incumbent and successor. It is also a great way to promote sustainable business practices and culture.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Program your mind to think and communicate in a language that will translate into the balancing of technology and business initiatives to achieve strategic goals.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My greatest career achievement was when I played an instrumental leadership role in developing and implementing IT infrastructure, applications and process improvement projects for a newly acquired business in the United States where I was relocated for three years.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would do nothing differently. I take everything as a learning experience to improve and be better at what I do and who I am as a leader.

What are you reading now? The 4 Disciplines of Execution, by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling.

Most people don't know that I… published a book in 2010, Inspirational Therapy.

In my spare time, I like to…explore the creative arts, which includes writing poetry, prose and music.

Ask me to do anything but… go against my Christian beliefs.