CIO Spotlight: Helena Nimmo, Endava

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “One thing all CIOs need to have is a very broad view of the company. The full understanding of end-to-end processes is vital to any business transformation, often led by the Internal Tech function and CIO.”

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Endava

Name: Helena Nimmo

Company: Endava

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: May 2019

Location: London, UK

Helena Nimmo joined Endava in May 2019 and has global responsibility for Internal Tech across the Group. Nimmo has over 25 years of experience in change and organisational design through product development, data management and technology transformation. Prior to joining Endava, Nimmo has worked in multiple sectors and variety of organisations including Thomson Reuters, Cancer Research UK, Fujitsu and Symbian. She started her technology career with Nokia.

What was your first job? I planted trees! More specifically, I was considering a career in horticulture and it felt like a good place to start. It never turned into a career, though gardening and tending trees provides me with my “thinking space” and to this day, many work-related challenges have been solved whilst pruning a tree. Later on, after leaving school, I did a period in consultancy which led me to Nokia, where my career in IT took off.

Did you always want to work in IT? Technology and computing was always part of my childhood both as a replacement typewriter and an opportunity to play games, but it wasn’t until my mid-20s that I fell in love with the opportunities IT presented. Getting my first mobile phone in the 90s was a revelation. The chance to improve the way we work and live, and reimagine how people interact with technology since driven me in the roles I’ve taken and projects I’ve led. Since entering the sector, I've never looked back.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I grew up in Finland, doing my primary and secondary education in Oulu. I attended university there at Oulu Uni, in the Economics Department, before attending Strathclyde University in Scotland for my Masters in International Marketing.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I can’t say I have ever proscribed a career path; I’ve had many detours on the way! I certainly never set out with the role of CIO as a career goal. Looking back at my decisions, I can see that I tended to go for jobs that held an interesting challenge and had an element of fun. Every role has presented something new, and always taken me out of my comfort zone to some degree.

What I’ve realised is that I enjoy driving change through people. Technology is an enabler – it’s people that really make the difference. As a result I have had the opportunity to collect experiences from many different sectors and different companies. It also means that I can enjoy my passion of life long learning.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Three themes are standing out for me at the moment, data and automation being the first and second. Digital acceleration is all about truly getting value out of your systems and ensuring the data reaches those who need it when they need it, and in whatever form they need it in. Automating as much of workflows as possible allows for this to happen within and across systems, functions and geographies. The third theme is user experience, making system interfaces intuitive for all our users from Gen Z to Boomers. This has never been more critical as we’ve all moved to digital-first lives during the pandemic.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Sustainable growth is really important for us at Endava, and that’s across everything from ensuring our systems and data can scale and adapt as the business evolves and grows. The above-mentioned priorities – data, automation and user experience – are all driven by this. More broadly, the timely focus on environmental sustainability is driving decisions on how we manage our estate, to minimise our carbon foot-print.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I think it is really hard to define what a conventional CIO does because that role no longer exists. Rather, the roles and responsibilities of CIOs at various organisations depends on the sector and the size of the company. Technology is so pervasive and there are so many technology leaders and labels that it is quite difficult to draw a box around any C-suite role.

One thing all CIOs need to have is a very broad view of the company. The full understanding of end-to-end processes is vital to any business transformation, often led by the Internal Tech function and CIO.

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? I’ve never been partial to the term ‘digital transformation’, and here’s why: While I’m leading on various customer experience, efficiency, and revenue projects across my clients, the concept of digital transformation is overwhelming for many. Instead I prefer to take an approach which I call ‘digital acceleration’. Where it has the edge is in allowing teams – my own or those within my clients – to recognise their starting point.  Rarely are they  starting from scratch with digital; breaking down the change into small, discrete efforts; embracing a culture of continuous change and ongoing iterative improvement; using data to fuel their digital future; and putting the user at the centre of their decision making.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? I consider IT to be just like any other business function. To maintain competitive advantage, you have to be able to measure and articulate how you compare with others in the marketplace. IT is also in a unique place; as technology is increasingly a differentiator. This means keeping an eye on potential disruptors and disrupting trends entering your market. The value of IT is a combination of understanding how your present compares and looking into the future to be able to respond to emerging trends quick enough.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We are all about being the best we can be for both our customers and our people. This requires us to develop trust with our customers and our colleagues. Creating an environment where people feel they are free to challenge and openly discuss ideas and projects is key to this. As a result, the Endava team is very accessible to each other, and we encourage everyone to share observations and challenge the status quo. Within my own team, I’ve tried to cultivate an attitude that avoids making assumptions and keeps an open mind. Dissenting, different opinions are encouraged to promote diversity of thinking and ultimately to make us all better at what we do.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? There is a global shortage in all technology skills at the moment. Generalist skills – those that look at the bigger picture and make connections - like architecture and business analysts, are in short supply. There are also a number of specialist cloud infrastructure, security, and advanced data roles facilitating real-time decision making and automation that are in high demand, further driving the squeeze on skills and resource.

What's the best career advice you ever received?  Listen. Observe. Trust yourself.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I think everyone should have a succession plan. I’m no different. It doesn’t need to be formalised or written down, but having it means you operate better as a team and are able to delegate with confidence. Not having one makes you the weakest link and blocks your team from having the full experience of leadership.  

Delegation and coaching are great ways to grow talent, developing individual abilities, while allowing people to test and develop their skills.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? You’ve chosen a great career. Remember to be curious about everything in your organisation and know the power of asking “Why?”

What has been your greatest career achievement? I don’t think I have achieved that yet. Ask me again when I’ve retired.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? My career path has not been straightforward, and there are many things I’d probably do differently. That said, I try and not dwell too much on what has happened in the past.  Learn from the experiences, , feel confident in taking the learnings onboard and move forward. You can never change the past.

What are you reading now? I usually have two books on the go. One I have just started reading is Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell, by Steve Harrison, covering the evolution of advertising, politics, and culture. It provides an interesting view into how social responsibility in increasing it presence in the marketing messaging.

Most people don't know that I… really like Moomins. As in REALLY like Moomins.

In my spare time, I like to…Be outside and be active.

Ask me to do anything but… don’t ask me not to have fun. At work or otherwise.