On IT’s role in Digital Transformation: A Q&A with Fuze CIO Chris Conry
We recently sat down the Fuze’s new Chief Information Officer, Chris Conry, to get his thoughts on the CIO’s role in digital transformation and what he sees as IT’s key focus areas.
Tell us a little about yourself and your IT background
I have been in IT space for more than 20 years and focused a great deal of that time working with high-tech companies to grow and scale their businesses, improve efficiencies, and ultimately embrace business transformation. For the last nine years, I was at Arbor Networks, the Security Division of NETSCOUT, where I was responsible for streamlining processes and scaling the business, while also driving a cloud-first strategy. It was in this role that I really became energized and enamored with how a strong cloud strategy can improve a business and increase the value of IT in the enterprise. In coming to Fuze, I saw a similar opportunity to contribute to a rapidly growing company, embracing and evangelizing a cloud-first strategy, both internally and with our customer base.
Jumping into the digital landscape a bit and looking at the role of today’s CIO, what do you think are the top responsibilities for IT as companies look to embrace digital transformation?
In recent years, IT has seen a huge shift away from the cost center mentality to truly being a core enabler of the business. I see four pillars that are critical for IT departments today: simplification, agility, enablement, and security. For CIOs to make an impact on business transformation, they need to drive adoption and recognition of these four pillars across the business, not just within the IT function.
In the past, and still today in many business settings, IT operates in a silo, separate from the core business strategy. CIOs and their teams have been largely responsible for reducing expenses, delivering reports, and managing the implementation of and maintenance for on-premise technologies – operating in a “risk avoidance” manner. However, the pressure on IT is mounting and the demands have shifted. IT leaders are now expected to be much more innovative and deliver flexible solutions that allow their businesses to quickly respond to changing external and internal dynamics, while still maintaining efficiency standards. This is where a strategy that emphasizes simplicity and agility can have a huge impact. If successfully carried out, IT can be an enabler of growth and positive change, as opposed to being an impediment to it that is dragged along for the ride. A business that can scale and seamlessly adapt to change without adding significant incremental operational resource and expense is the ultimate mark of a progressive IT function.
What opportunities and challenges do the incoming workforce pose to IT leaders as they join the workforce?
Generational shifts in the workforce have played a huge role in shaping priorities for IT departments. As the App Generation (teens aged 15-18) moves into the enterprise structure, companies need to be ready to meet the expectations of employees who have never known a world without a smartphone.
These workers grew up with technology available at their fingertips. They are often not familiar with more traditional business tools and processes. This is especially true when it comes to communication methods – beyond voice and messaging options, the younger generation of employees have new ideas when it comes to physical work space and how they interact and collaborate with other employees. The days of a brick-and-mortar headquarter office are less common as communication and collaboration become easier and more accessible to remote workers. CIOs need to recognize this generational shift and consider how IT can enable today’s employees to be most productive in the work environment, while also maintaining consistency and security across the enterprise.
You mentioned security as one of the four pillars. What are some of the factors keeping security top of mind in the digital era?
As CIO, I’m responsible for both the security of the company and the product. Balancing the two different sides is common for many CIOs, but security matters to more than just the IT department. IT can work on building a mandatory security training program, shoring up endpoint and network perimeter protections, hire white hat hackers to pen test the product, and put security operations in place within the dev team, etc. But to be effective, the whole company needs to partner together to ensure that responsible controls are in place and security awareness runs throughout.
We focus on maintaining enterprise-grade security across the company and product, and we’re expanding our processes so we are more transparent about our posture and to improve visibility with our customers. To this end, I’d like to thank our customer and partner Rapid7 for working with us to identify a weakness in our service offering earlier this month. Within a matter of 48 hours, we patched the vulnerability and we have no reason to believe that it was exploited by any malicious actor. A good result and testimony to the fact that security is a team effort.
One of the key roles for IT is to engage with employees on technology priorities and ensure a unified approach across the business to best fend off potential threats. The more moving pieces (business apps, collaboration solutions, storage options, endpoint systems, etc.) that exist in the IT environment, the greater the challenge for IT to maintain order and security across the organization. IT is accountable for the protection of corporate assets and integrity of its information, as well as for effective change management. They cannot afford to be an after-thought when functions are contemplating technology acquisition. To be successful in today’s world, alignment with all areas of the business, and being a trusted partner in decision-making processes, has never been more important for IT leadership.
The dramatic rise in the number and variety of connected devices is also top of mind and another factor that is contributing to an evolving threat landscape. In the end, good security hygiene and awareness must be an engrained element of every facet of the business (from R&D to sales & marketing to customer service delivery to the back-office support functions) and entail accommodations for all connected devices, not just systems that are deployed by IT and carried around by the workforce. Employee engagement, across the board, is essential to meeting the business needs while also best protecting the enterprise and limiting its vulnerabilities.
Learn more about current challenges CIOs are maneuvering, as well as key strategies and initiatives forward-looking CIOs are implementing in 2017, in our recent CIO Outlook report here.