IT Planning & Management

Celebrate CIOs in a forklift year

In all the clamour and hyperbole about the CIO being at the forefront of business innovation, the serious business of execution and final delivery can get lost. Spending time with some of the UK’s leading CIOs from the worlds of financial services, logistics and energy recently, we discussed “heavy lifting”. As a number of the CIOs describing their current strategic status as being consumed by major implementation. I coined the phrase “a forklift year” and it resonated well.

As anyone who has spent time in a warehouse (first job for this scribe), on a factory floor, with builders, or in a farmyard will have observed, forklift trucks and their very skilled drivers manoeuvre with great deftness in confined spaces, to tight timings and in areas where there is significant risk to the smooth operation of the organisation should they make mistake. Not only is a forklift driver moving goods about, there is a great deal of business process planning that goes into a well-managed warehouse or yard (it may look a mess to you, but trust me on this).

Just as a CIO and the architecture team map every integration of the varied technology and information building blocks of an enterprise, so too there are detailed processes for ensuring the right goods are in the right places to ensure accurate construction, manufacture, supply or crop yield are produced. A forklift truck driver is therefore implementing a crucial part of the heavy lifting of today’s enterprise. 


Strong foundations

Innovation and business transformation are necessary to the CIO role but neither are successful if they are built on foundations of sand. A new service, app or process will not survive unless it is robust and benefits the customer and/or the employee. Laying the foundations of a business is hard work and requires a lot of heavy lifting. Watch the building of a new set of homes: for weeks the builders dig holes, pour cement and drive steel rods into the ground in a process that seems to take forever. Then the brick layers arrive and in the blink of an eye a street load of identical Barratt homes shoot up. The strong foundations enable rapid deployment of the end product. 

Implementing infrastructure or re-building an IT team can take time and to some observers it can look as if nothing is happening. Even with the increased speed of deployment that comes from the cloud and off-the-shelf toolsets available to CIOs, if there has been long-term underinvestment, lifting in the foundations can be challenging. CIOs in banking and retail looking to help organisations come to terms with the digital age are having to carry out just this type of heavy lifting.

Big organisations have the hardest heavy lifting. Legacy, complex business processes and the speed of innovation from digital rivals all add weight to the task. Not every implementation is pretty, there are always challenges and to some inside and outside of the organisation that heavy lifting phase can be mistaken for a business and a CIO that lacks innovation. The truth is very different and, just as the forklift driver’s poise should be praised, so too should we recognise those CIOs delivering during a forklift year. 


Also read:
Losing CIOs to startups could be costly
DevOps is a CIO theory of evolution
Chief Digital Officer: What’s in a job title?


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Mark Chillingworth

Mark Chillingworth is a CIO and CTO journalist, ghost writer, moderator and advisor with over 11 years experience. From 2010 to 2016 he was Editor in Chief of the award-winning CIO UK. In 2011 he created the CIO 100, an annual transformation power list of the UK’s most influential CIOs and launched the UK’s first CIO Podcast in 2016.

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