How ABB’s Alec Joannou chooses his priorities as CIO: “There is a real purpose in being in IT these days”

by Yara El-Sabagh

OUT NOW im #ConfareBlog with Alec Joannou:
How ABB’s Alec Joannou chooses his priorities as a CIO: “There is a real purpose in being in IT these days”

Submissions and nominations for the Confare Swiss #CIOAWARD are possible until the end of June. A top-class jury selects the IT manager of the year. In 2021, the award went to an exceptional candidate. Alec Joannou is not only the Global CIO of a truly huge corporation with an estimated 110,000 employees, he has also been a recipient of such an award in the past, in his country of origin South Africa.

CIOIn the Confare blog interview, Alec explains why submitting for the Swiss #CIOAWARD is a good idea, how he deals with shadow IT, and what it takes for IT and business to work together.

IT plays a role in all departments today. How far beyond the IT area does the CIO’s responsibility go?

As IT has become part of the DNA of all organisations, and its core to enabling the business – especially in age of digitization and automation – IT is key to all functions and organisations in a business. The responsibility of the CIO is extended in becoming a sponsor of all large transformation programs that require IT as an enabler.

IT know-how is much more widespread today than it used to be before. Arbitrary decisions by business departments lead to the notorious shadow IT. How should a CIO deal with this topic in times of citizen developers, low- and no-code and cloud?

The shadow IT of today is different to the past. In the past people created shadow IT as they were frustrated by their IT colleagues and department. Services took forever to deliver. Today shadow IT exists because technology has evolved and people can self-service in the area of IT. And the only way IT can manage Shadow IT is to collaborate with the business and ensure that they enable and empower people to use IT in a safe and compliant way without having to police them.

What does a contemporary positioning of the CIO and internal IT look like today? How does the cooperation with the business departments work?

As stated above – IT is embedded in the DNA of every department. And the importance of co-creating and collaboration with the business is the key. We still have a bridge between IT and the business but I believe that in the near to medium future that bridge will disappear and IT will be embedded in all business functions.

How do you reconcile the increasing demands in terms of resilience and cybersecurity with the agility and flexibility of the digital economy?

It’s a fine balancing act and one must be practical and realistic when balancing the two out. At the end of the day, there has to be some compromises on both sides, but not to the extent that you compromise the organisation or slow down the agility and speed to market. Not easy but possible.

In times of staff shortages and inflation, it is important to set priorities. With all the upcoming technologies, hypes and fields of action, how do you as a CIO find out where the worthwhile and most important activities lie?

The principle of understanding and enabling the Business Strategy is still very real and relevant – you then choose the appropriate technologies to enable those strategies. The technologies should never be prioritised or chosen for IT purposes.

What does leadership mean in an agile organization?

I am going to be controversial on this one 😊 – leadership is the same – whether in a waterfall or agile environment. The same leadership qualities are needed to make any operating model, organisation or methodology work.

What can a CIO do to make the IT an attractive job sector?

By focusing on the value IT brings to the organisation – there is a real purpose in being in IT these days.

What role does the Confare #CIOAWARD play for you personally and for Swiss IT?

For me personally it was a great endorsement for my people and team that we doing all the right things. And the recognition by an independent party reinforces the achievements of the team.

Why is it a good idea to make a submission or nomination?

It’s a great experience and a great way to promote off the great things the CIO and their team are doing. And there are no losers in this scenario – everyone nominated has already won.

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