Digitisation changing the role of IT leaders, says GE CIO

General Electric CIO and VP Jim Fowler says CIOs are expected to focus more on business results

Tags: Digital transformationDigitisationGeneral Electric
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Digitisation changing the role of IT leaders, says GE CIO Fowler: CIOs are moving towards a more business-focused role. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  July 5, 2016

Digitisation and analytics is changing the role of CIOs in industrial companies, to put more focus on results and profits than operations, according to Jim Fowler, vice president and CIO of General Electric.

Speaking to itp.net, Fowler said that worldwide, CIOs were now expected to take a bigger role at the board level, and to have a broader view of their company's business.

"The role of the CIO in industrial companies around the world is changing. Ten years ago my role was thought of as a back office, ‘keep the lights and network running' type of role," he explained. "Now I am really expected to have a bigger seat at the leadership table, which means that I am expected to bring both ideas to how to run the company more simply, but also how to grow and connect better with our customers through the use of technology. This shift is happening globally, and there is a push really for the CIO to have a bigger role in most companies. We find that commercially we spend more of our time with CIOs in the room than ever before."

The intersection of operational technology such as SCADA systems and information technology is creating a major shift in many sectors, such as manufacturing, utilities, healthcare and transport, Fowler said, and GE is very focused on the connectivity of industrial sensors and the integration of IT and OT. By 2020, GE-managed assets will be producing, about 10 billion terabytes of data per day, he said, and organisations are looking to gain value from across all areas of operations by collecting and analysing that data, which in turn is putting more responsibility on the CIO to manage that data and find ways to extract business value from it.

"CIOs and the operational leaders are having to work more in tune with each other, and in many large companies today, we are seeing the role of COO be taken over by the role of CIO and the COO and CIO be somewhat combined," he said.

"I think similarly, the CIOs are having to start to sign up to goals and objectives that look very different to they did 15 years ago. My goals and objectives this year have a sales target, a productivity target and a cash generation target. 15 years ago, none of those would have been part of my goals and objectives."

This new focus on data gained from industrial systems in creating new demands on systems to manage the volume of data that is being created. GE has developed a cloud-based PaaS offering for the industrial internet, called Predix, which is helping to tackle large scale, structured and unstructured data, and apply analytics at the device level instead of bringing data to the centre. Real time analysis of data will enable efficiency and productivity gains across the organisation, across functions such as field engineers conducting maintenance to complex tracking of productivity and efficiency across all parts of a business.

This shift means that CIOs need to have a deeper understanding of the business, and how IT can influence the bottom line, and also to stay current with rapidly evolving technology, to enable CIOs to maintain their position and develop a leadership role, Fowler said.

"When someone new begins to work for me, they ask what is the first thing they should so, number one is understand how your business makes money, and number two is understand how do the customers of your business make money. At the end of the day if what you are doing doesn't improve both of those, or at least for the customer, then you are probably not working on the right things. I think that understanding of what it takes for you and your customer to make money really changes the dialogue and the discussion you have about running projects and program in the company," he said.

"Staying current with technology has got to be at the forefront, and being able to translate it into business terms is the second part. You have to be hooked in with venture capitalists to see what is new and emerging. You have to stay close to key software companies and understand where their futures are headed and be part of their advisory committees where possible; and, you have got to be a voracious reader of content and looking to see what is new and innovative and how other companies are applying it, how business leaders are starting to think about problems that apply technology in different ways."

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