Where strategy and technology meet

Jeff Sampler of Said Business School on managing the intersection between strategy and technology

Tags: Executive educationGartner IncorporationSaid Business SchoolUnited Arab Emirates
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Where strategy and technology meet CIOs have an opportunity to leap-frog generations of technology, but must be aware of the wider business eco-system, says Sampler.
By  Mark Sutton Published  September 16, 2009

The Gartner CIO Academy Gulf Region, a high-level education event for CIOs, is coming to Abu Dhabi later this month. Produced in collaboration with the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, the event aims to deliver a business education program tailored specifically for CIOs. itp.net spoke to Jeff Sampler, Fellow in Management of Technology and Strategy, Saïd Business School, to find out more about the plan for the event and the developing role of the CIO.

Can you explain what your role is at the Said Business School?

I am a faculty member, teaching mainly in executive education, but also MBA programs, specializing in the intersection between strategy and technology.

How does Said Business School work with Gartner on the CIO Academy event?

Gartner in the past had a CIO Academy, and now we offer it jointly, and really we try to offer the best of both worlds - Gartner is one of the world class organizations in doing research in the CIO area, but a lot of the research they do is very current, and topically focused. In academia we tend to longer-cycle research, so what we do is combine the current perspectives of Gartner, with the longer cycle perspective of academia, to say ‘this is what happening currently, but how does that fit in with these broader management trends, and broader economics and business in genera?' We try to provide an ambidextrous view, if you like, for the CIO, of current trends and how to place that in a broader perspective, and hopefully how to interact more effectively with the board, as a business person, because of that.

What activities and themes do you have planned for the CIO Academy in Abu Dhabi?

There are two major themes. One day will be ‘What are the issues from the CEO's and the board's perspective?'. I think one of the critical things that every CIO faces is that they know they are business critical, they know are mission critical, but they have a hard time convincing their business colleagues of that. Really we are trying to frame the technology issues from a general manager perspective, to give them the language and perspective to interact with other CxOs.

Then the second day will be how to manage the IT function much more effectively. It will really be within their own discipline, looking at current management trends and techniques, whether it is outsourcing, offshoring, whatever it may be in terms of effective management techniques.

Will the sessions focus on current pain points for CIOs?

Of course. I think that every CIO has exactly the same challenges, which is more performance, from less money, better systems responsiveness, better security, and, increasingly what we find is IT has to be a source of business innovation, not just about cost reduction.

Have you dealt with CIOs in the Middle East before, and are you aware of any unique challenges facing them?

I have written two books on Dubai, so I know the region reasonably well, and I think, IT is pretty much a global phenomenon, it is a global capability, so I think the issues are fairly homogenous. I think what we see in the Middle East, is that certain parts of the Gulf are going through different economic situations at the moment, so there may be even more pressure on cost cutting and delivering more bang for the buck.

At the same time, the GCC is one of the most rapidly growing areas in the world, so there is huge pressure on growth and innovation. What I think is really interesting in the Middle East is you see a lot of leapfrogging of technology, where [organizations] are just skipping a generation. Those kind of issues may be more intense in the region.

Are there particular risks involved in leapfrogging generations of technology that the region's CIOs need to consider?

As always, the risk is probably not technological, but much more about the users. It is the users and the business receptiveness, and to make sure that the eco-system in which the business operates is ready, not just their own business. It is increasingly that ‘eco-system perspective', thinking beyond my own firm, that is really critical to effective use of IT, not just within my own firewalls and my own corporate environment. Most CIOs understand their own environment very well, and can manage that very well, but it is starting to manage the risk of the entire eco system. IT is never standalone, it works far outside the company boundaries, so it is understanding those trends.

With regard to the CIO issues that you are considering, is it possible to anticipate the next issues, or is it always a case of CIOs having to learn from experience?

Clearly that is part of what we are trying to do - a fool can learn from their own mistakes, a wise man can learn from the mistakes of others. What we are trying to do is say ‘what are the leading edge practices we have seen from around the world, and what are the lessons that we can take from that, how do we apply those and adapt them within your context?' The CIO academy is incredibly interactive with the participants, and we really try to draw on their own unique experience to bring this to life, it is really taking leading edge practices and trying to fit them into a local context.

We have been doing this in Europe for about five years together now. It is our first time in the Middle East, it has been a great response even in the current economic environment, and I am sure we will be doing this again next year. This is just the beginning of things we are doing within the region, Said business School is doing a lot of stuff in Saudi and other things in the region, and both us and Gartner see this as an interesting and important part of the world that we want to be more involved with.

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