CIO Spotlight: Hena Jalil, BT Global

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? “There’s a cultural shift happening, and as you can see with the “Great Resignation,” people have different expectations, goals, and motivations. We’re working on resetting our culture accordingly…”

BT Global

Name: Hena Jalil

Company: BT Global

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: September 2021

Location: London, England

Hena Jalil is currently the CIO for BT Global, a division of United Kingdom telecommunications company BT Group that provides global security, cloud and networking services to multinational companies worldwide, with operations in 180 countries and with a yearly revenue of four billion. Before this she was the IT, Digital and Data Director at Openreach. Openreach is a BT subsidiary that connects nearly all homes and businesses in the United Kingdom to the national broadband and telephone network. Jalil is a transformational technical leader/engineer who has built an exceptional track record of delivering customer and business outcomes. In the various CIO roles, she has consistently solved business challenges with commercial astuteness whilst boldly introducing and embedding innovation.

What was your first job? While I was still in university, I taught IT to people who were older and had no prior experience with computers. It was just a summer job, but it was a great learning experience. I had to make sure I was challenging people enough and keeping them engaged as an instructor, which was very insightful for my early career in IT.

Did you always want to work in IT? I’ve always wanted to work in technology. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved breaking things apart, fixing them, trying to understand how they work and how I could make them work better. Technology excites me as it solves a lot of real-world challenges and I always wanted to be a part of something with a capability to have such a fantastic impact on the world.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I graduated from Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and later got my MBA from the University of Warwick. I hold a lot of professional certifications along the way as well, e.g. Microsoft, Oracle, SAFe etc.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I think it’s pretty rare that anyone has a completely linear career path. I was a hands-on coder, and eventually switched to a more strategic path. I also started out in a consultancy, and working on customer projects was a vastly different experience from working for a company that has ownership over its technology. That was the biggest transition for me – taking that leap landed me in a role where I had a lot more ownership and control.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year?  For BT Global, digital transformation is hugely significant. We’re moving more towards a platform-based view where we’re focusing on building platforms rather than products, which is a big transition for BT Global. We need to execute at pace to deliver the best customer solutions, digitise sales and optimise services to provide a world class experience for our customers. From a security perspective, I’m working in partnership with Kevin Brown to build security platforms and ideate solutions. From our epidemiological AI tool to our investment in Safe Security, cyber was a huge focus for BT Global in 2021 and continuing into 2022.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our biggest priority this year is to ensure we’re delivering a best-in-class product portfolio that’s lucrative and attractive to our customers while becoming more efficient on delivering those solutions. Our goal over the next few years is to double our productivity and create a flawless customer experience as we zero in on a modern and strategic approach to delivering the IT solutions our customers need.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? CIOs have historically been pretty set in their ways in terms of how they approach technology. I think it’s time for CIOs to pivot from a solely technological focus to a stronger business and commercial acumen. In reality, technology touches every single part of almost every job in the world. It’s up to CIOs to steer that ship both internally (i.e. ensure employees are equipped with the tools and software they need) and externally by helping customers understand the product suite that is best going to serve their interests.

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? Digital transformation is the central part of my role as CIO. BT Global has historically served large customers, but our portfolio has been very network-centric and more about base connectivity. Looking towards the future, we want to transfer to more over-the-top endeavours, which is a massive undertaking. Our customers are well along their way into cloud migration and now they’re focused on how to change their posture from reactive to proactive. One way we’re helping move that forward is through strategic digital programs where we aim to build platforms rather than just products. In these projects, there absolutely needs to be a balance between customer experience and operational efficiency – you should always be driving an excellent customer experience and strong value propositions for your customer. If you solely focus on cost efficiency alone without keeping a larger goal in mind, you will lose focus of the end-goal you’re trying to achieve.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? In many ways, BT Global has been a ground-breaking force in bringing a digital-first mindset to our products, customers and more. Today, whether we’re talking about cybersecurity or networking or cloud services, as a truly global organisation that provides products and services to around 180 countries, and with our extensive global presence, we support international and multi-national organisations and provide local availability of businesses, technology, service and support professionals around the world.

Every conversation at BT starts with a discussion on KPIs, and that stands true for proving out the value of IT. KPIs are central to every single project and task, and we’re always monitoring data and results to ensure our actions are actually turning the dial - it’s about executing, not just talking.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I’m part of a new team led by Harmeen Mehta, our Chief Digital and Innovation Officer, who are dedicated to gaining insight and understanding of where BT stands as an organisation and how we can use that to adapt our culture to attract a new generation of tech talent. There’s a cultural shift happening, and as you can see with the “Great Resignation,” people have different expectations, goals, and motivations. We’re working on resetting our culture accordingly and we’ve recently launched a new manifesto called “The Digital Way” which introduces principles on culture and behaviour that we want to embed within the company.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? BT is doing a complete reset of its digital agenda and we are looking for people with a variety of experience for e.g. startups and not just corporates, hands on technical experts as well as strong leaders etc. and we do not want to compromise on our expectations as it is critical to our success. Specialist technical skills for e.g. SRE, DevOps, Security are also a lot more difficult to find as people are reassessing their options post the pandemic. 

What's the best career advice you ever received? One of my previous CEOs once said to me – ‘Always run to the fire’ and I have repeatedly seen the value of that. What sets people on a path of success is their drive for value and the difference they can make. A moment of crisis helps differentiates you from others and demonstrates your resilience, tenacity and creativity in doing the best for the business. Ultimately, you need a clear idea of the value you can bring to a business and how you can execute on it. People also shouldn’t shy away from learning throughout their entire careers – I went back to school for my MBA after starting my career as an engineer because I wanted to learn more about strategic and financial challenges, and even now I spend my weekends catching up on new technology.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. It’s an interesting question as I’ve only just started my position in the fall of 2021. Right now, I’m focused on working with our newly established team – we have a deep bench of talent that I both want to nurture and learn from. There are definitely some good contenders who are already proving their worth.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? For those who are just starting out their career in technology or exploring the option, my best advice is to never presume that you know everything. Learning is a continual process, especially in technology. Act like a sponge: soak up every single article or academic research you can find, get coffee with your superiors and quiz them on their vision for the future and always be humble. I still do that today.

One other thing I would say is that it is paramount IT leaders empower the next generation to go into the tech field. STEM education is especially important for young girls, and we really owe this to the next generation but also it is great for the IT industry.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Driving the IT transformation required to enable the FTTP build for UK (Fibre to the premise) with an ambition to complete 25M premises by 2026.  Also supporting and scaling broadband during the Covid lockdowns to enable the businesses, education, healthcare etc. to carry on in spite of the demand spikes.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have been more fearless. That additional bit on top of boldness gives an edge to get to results faster.

What are you reading now? I am currently reading Taking the Reins as CIO: A Blueprint for Leadership Transitions, by Tony Gerth. I like this book as it talks about practical challenges in leading IT brought to life with some really interesting insights.

Most people don't know that I… Am an ardent painter.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my family, read loads of books and travel the world exploring different cultures, architectures and landscapes..

Ask me to do anything but… Stick to the script or do things the way they have always been done. I love creativity, innovation and challenging norms to drive the most exciting outcomes.