The first 100 days: Setting the agenda as the CIO

Claire Dickson spins around her camera during our video chat and shows me the wall behind her desk. It’s covered with a collection of brightly coloured Post-it notes that correspond to a range of initiatives she’s undertaking as the recently appointed group CIO at packaging specialist DS Smith.

“I’m totally running a process for my first 100 days,” says Dickson, who is using the first few months in the role to meet and greet colleagues, to assess the scale of the IT challenge, and to create a digital business strategy for the next five years.

Dickson is far from alone in recognising the importance of running a process for the start of a new IT leadership role. Gartner, for example, has a toolkit called ‘The CIO’s First 100 Days‘, which covers the questions, frameworks and decisions that will be important for newly appointed tech chiefs.

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

The analyst says CIOs get one chance to build credibility and create a sense of trust – and that’s something that resonates with Dickson, who is now one month into her new job at DS Smith. She says the key to success for other tech chiefs is simple – do a lot of listening and then be data-led on the strategic decisions you make.

Dickson says all newly appointed IT leaders come with a kitbag of tools and ideas from their previous role – and in her case, that was CIO of BP’s downstream operation. But rather than drawing too heavily on past experiences and favoured approaches, she says the first month at DS Smith has been a reminder of the significance of staying open to new approaches.

“It’s about just trying to get a picture of where we’re at and then using some benchmarking of what other companies are doing to see where we sit,” she tells ZDNet.

Dickson has created a list of important data sets, which covers everything from the shape of the existing IT portfolio, the spend on customer-facing services versus supply chain systems, and onto investments in digital and data projects compared to core IT infrastructure.

“I’m trying to be as data-led as I can, so I’m just mining data on everything that I can get my hands on,” she says. “But I think, at the same time, it’s about trying to make sure that you’re listening enough to what’s different about this company to where you’ve been before, so that you’re not trying to just run the same stuff again.”

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Dickson: “I’m totally running a process for my first 100 days.”


DS Smith

Dickson spent the first couple of weeks at DS Smith in meetings with stakeholders. That’s not as straightforward as it sounds when you can’t meet face to face due to the coronavirus pandemic, yet she says the process was smooth and successful. She also spent time with her team and got an appreciation for the way that IT is used and where opportunities exist to do more.

To this end, she’s currently running an assessment of the core IT at DS Smith, covering some of the most important areas such as cybersecurity, talent, operations and architecture: “All the usual stuff that you would expect.”

That process will be followed by an assessment of digital maturity, covering everything from new ways of working to the use of cloud-based platforms across the organisation. “So I’m mapping all of that out and then working through where the priority areas are for us to get after,” says Dickson.

Once this period of listening and assessing is complete, she’ll set to work on the most important process of all – developing a digital IT strategy that will set the direction of travel for business technology for the next five years. Her aim is to deliver the strategy to the board in late July or early August.

Dickson’s 100-day process is, in short, about analysing the current state of play, taking a step back to make some decisions, and then creating a digital strategy. However, the focus on long-term objectives isn’t her only priority. As Dickson looks to the future, she’s also keen to add value along the way by changing things where she can make an immediate impact.

“There are some quick wins we can definitely get after, in particular in the data and machine-learning space. I think we can start adding immediate value to the bottom line of the company. I’d like to get a few of those quick wins out of the gate while the bigger transformation is going on,” she says.

If the IT team can get a couple of these minimum viable products up and running, Dickson says they will be able to demonstrate to the rest of the business how IT is not just a cost centre but very much a potential value-creator for the company. That, in turn, makes it much easier to make the case for further digital transformation.

Dickson says her five-year digital strategy will cover a range of key elements, such as creating a digital supply chain, digitising customer experience and upskilling the IT department through the creation of a digital skills academy.

She paints a picture of what she hopes will be the relationship between IT and the rest of the business at DS Smith in a couple of years – connected, collaborative and working to solve customer challenges quickly and effectively through the effective use of data.

Like so many of her peers, Dickson is an advocate for the benefits of an Agile approach to leadership, and she hopes the iterative work she’s doing now will help lay the foundations for a much more Agile approach to digital business transformation at the firm.

“I’d like to be able to walk around the office and see cross-functional teams operating together in an Agile way – business and IT together, working seamlessly as one team with workflows and Kanban boards. It would be great to see them working together on business problems iteratively, rather than annually,” she says.

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