Name: Chris Conry
Job title: Chief Information Officer
Time in current role: One year in April
Location: Boston, USA
Education: I have a Bachelor of Science degree in computer information systems and a Masters degree in business administration. Early in my IT career, I also earned certification as a network engineer.
As CIO, Chris Conry heads Fuze's global IT and information security functions, leveraging more than two decades of experience in IT and operational leadership, with a primary focus in growth-oriented high-tech businesses. Chris is a purveyor of cloud-first IT strategy and has a strong track record of delivering agile, business-enabling solutions for private and public enterprises.
What was your first job? In my teens, I was a dishwasher in a country club kitchen, but I took my first IT job immediately after graduating from college as an assistant network administrator for a financial services firm.
Did you always want to work in IT? I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant...until my first accounting course as an undergrad convinced me otherwise. I quickly transitioned to IT studies, which was a lot more interesting to me, and I never turned back.
Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started my career in IT Operations (PC support, network administration, and systems management). Gradually, I increased my scope of responsibility to include business systems, application services and finally security and compliance. Early on in my career, I was fortunate enough to work in a software business that required me to wear many hats. It was a baptism-by-fire type of situation. I was able to learn so much and grow professionally as the business scaled and evolved from an independent, VC-backed firm to a subsidiary of a publicly-traded global enterprise (NYSE: EMR), and then later to a business unit within the GE umbrella. Each step of the way, I was introduced to new challenges and business dynamics, and was exposed to a range of cultures, leadership styles and operational rigor. I couldn’t have asked for a better post-grad education in IT leadership and organizational behavior.
What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organization in the coming year? All of our work falls into one or more of the following categories: simplification, improving business agility, employee and customer enablement and continually strengthening our security posture. These are the pillars I’ve promoted for the last 15+ years. I’m thrilled to now be a part of a business that offers a platform and set of services to fellow IT leaders that delivers on those same pillars.
What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? We are focused on further optimizing our customer experience and operating efficiency by streamlining our end-to-end business processes. We’re enabling top-line growth by providing automation that eases the onboarding and success of global selling and service partners and we’re augmenting our control environment to ensure compliance with GDPR.
Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I really don’t think the CIO role has fundamentally changed a whole lot. The tools and best practices used to achieve success in our mobile, cloud-first world have certainly changed, but the CIO has always been expected to ensure the security and integrity of corporate information, and maximize the productivity and efficiency of the workforce. That said, the demands and make-up of today’s workforce are evolving rapidly, so what used to be acceptable as a corporate IT tech stack is not the case anymore. The millennials and app generation are having a great influence on the shape of our corporate automation solutions and our work environment.
Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasize customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Digital transformation is about improving work streams with technology and automation. It’s a continuum, and not an event or initiative with a finite end. No matter how technically-savvy or advanced we may think we are, there is always opportunity to improve on our customer experience, acquisition, and/or activation. Designing and applying solutions that help our teams and/or customers move faster, raise service levels, or make better decisions ultimately leads to revenue growth.
Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As you would expect, we are well ahead of the curve from a digital communications and collaboration standpoint. We fully leverage the Fuze platform to communicate and collaborate throughout the business and our employee engagement is very high as a result. We have a cloud-first IT model and mindset with everything we do, and we run quite lean as a business function, much more so than is the case with more traditional on-premises models. Our focus at the moment is on unifying our end-to-end business processes, as well as introducing more self-service capability into our environment.
What does good culture fit look like in your organization? How do you cultivate it? A culture that enables and respects honest and open dialogue among team members, is focused top-to-bottom on ‘doing the right thing’, takes great pride in solving problems and promotes a fun and engaging environment while doing all of that is a culture that I like to promote and be a part of.
What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Whether seeking an IT operations resource, an application services professional, or a compliance/security expert, candidates who possess a balance of technical domain expertise, business acumen, and service excellence are the hot commodities. I want to hire and develop folks that are service-oriented and regarded as thoughtful business people, not just as technologists or administrators. Finding that balance and those type of candidates is not easy. When businesses and IT leaders do find them, they usually do a good job (as they should) of keeping them motivated and content.
What's the best career advice you ever received? Hire, retain and reward attitude and character over expertise, every time. Technical skills can be developed and improved, but there is no substitute for building a team of hard-working people who genuinely care about delivering excellent service and exceeding expectations.
Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I’d like to think it’s a little early in my tenure to be focused too much on a succession plan, but it is definitely something that I care a lot about. Succession planning is not just about identifying and developing high potential leaders-in-the-making, it’s also about putting in place agile and sustainable organizational structures, technology stacks, and control environments. I feel great about our IT leadership team. I fully trust their judgment and decision-making within their domains. Together, we’re working on our functional agility - i.e. scaling the business as efficiently as possible and being able to respond to any planned or unexpected change or circumstance that we face, either internal or external.
What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Pay as much attention to understanding what makes your business tick and fostering great work relationships as you do technology.
What has been your greatest career achievement? I get the most pride from opening the door for the career growth and success of my team members. Getting a complex transformational project across the line is great, but there’s nothing more rewarding than to see a former individual contributor thrive as an IT, security, or business leader.
Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? No regrets. I’m a big believer in ‘everything happens for reason’.
This article originally appeared in IDG Connect.