Kicking off our series of preview blogs for our upcoming research paper, CIOs: A 2020 Vision for the Decade Ahead, we’ve released a few key talking points from our chat with Peter Donlon, CTO of Moonpig. A hugely engaging interviewee, Peter offered great insight on everything from the challenges of recruiting the best tech talent to how to keep cloud costs under control to where he sees the role of the CIO heading in the future.
You’ll have to wait for the release of the paper to read the whole interview, but, while you wait, here’s a round-up of the most important points.
The Biggest Challenge for CIOs
To kick things off, we asked Peter what he feels have been the greatest difficulties faced by CIOs in the last few years. In contrast with some of our other interviewees, for Peter, there is one challenge that stands out among all others:
"By far the biggest challenge for me is recruiting and retaining technology talent. If you think about the context of the market, particularly the UK market, you’ve got the tech giants who’ve been expanding exponentially – creating a huge number of roles. In addition, you’ve got the traditional companies – like the Sainsbury’s of this world – who are adopting digital strategies; you’ve got a booming start-up scene as well; and then there are companies like Moonpig who sit somewhere in the middle."
"This means a perfect storm of role creation, with all these companies seeing the value in digital roles, but we just don’t have the supply of talent.”
Naturally, our next question was how do you appeal in a market where talent holds all the aces?
“The only thing you can really do is offer a differentiated position from everybody else. Culture is important; I think companies are finally realising the value of a good culture. You’ve got to have interesting problems for people to solve. You’ve got to be able to give impact at scale. What that really means, is being able to offer something where the problems are challenging, without putting in place governance and processes that stop innovation.”
The Most Exciting Developments in Tech
The pace of change in technology in recent years can be hard to keep up with – harder still – is picking the most exciting developments. However, we pinned Peter down to the two he’s most eagerly anticipating:
“The more widespread use of AI and machine learning. I think to-date its use has felt quite forced. The industry thinks ‘there’s a new approach and we should use it’, as opposed to actually understanding the purpose of doing it. I think it’ll become more natural."
“I also think there has been a lot of focus on AI to solve the most complex problems. That’s great, and it’s absolutely what you should do, but things will get even more interesting when AI begins to be used for simple problems. Once we get to the point where we can free up our people to focus on things that add value rather than the mundane, that is actually a genuinely exciting concept.”
Peter’s second big development is the changing face of software as a service (SaaS) platforms:
“For many years we’ve all been solving the same problems over and over again. For example, in the e-commerce space, we all need a pricing engine and we all go and build one or use lots of different providers who each provide a part of it. But actually, we are now getting to a place where more and more of that is offered as a service.”
A bit like how infrastructure has become a commodity with cloud, I really see the value of SaaS in other areas too. As a CTO or CIO, it just unlocks so much potential.”
What Does the Future Hold for the Role of CIO?
With CIOs becoming ever more involved with digital transformation projects and focusing on ‘delivering value’ over traditional concerns like procuring hardware, we asked Peter where he sees the role headed in the future:
“For CTOs and CIOs, the breadth of role is growing. The capability and what’s required is changing quite dramatically. Technology has been, for a long time, a function. Requirements get fed in, IT goes away and does it…or, they fix printers!"
“It’s now got to the point that CIOs have to understand all the verticals of a business. Tech is now the enabler for absolutely everything. For example, to be able to help marketing you need to understand their domain. It’s a massive ask, but I genuinely feel it’s key for an organisation to succeed.”
Switching to a Cloud Mentality
We finished by tackling the challenges and opportunities posed by cloud computing. Peter began by discussing some of the issues CIOs face:
“It’s put a greater emphasis on understanding how your applications perform. I think that’s new for many organisations. In a world with tools like auto scaling – which is great on the face of it – you have to architect apps in a way that enables the tools available. It means you have to change the way you think about building your apps; we’re no longer in a world where you can rely on buying an excess of hardware to hide problems.”
“Rightsizing is absolutely key…it’s a good challenge to have, but it’s still a challenge.”
Peter then told us about the mentality shift needed to successfully navigate a cloud-powered business environment:
“The second thing is switching investment mentality – going from the world of CAPEX, where you invest in a lot of hardware, to OPEX where ongoing costs are larger. The challenge with that is realising where the savings truly come in. Running a bunch of hardware has massive overheads, but a third party doing it for you doesn’t.”
“It’s actually cutting things that don’t add value to your business, something I think that recognition of will grow with time. On the face of it, it looks like a cost challenge, but, in reality, it’s a huge benefit.”
These are just a few of the insights provided by Peter in the full interview, to read the rest, look out for the full paper coming soon. If you'd like access before anyone else, then sign up to be sent an advance copy the minute the paper is published.