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How Top Tech CIOs are Preparing their Companies for Success

What keeps your CIO up at night?

That's been on the mind of many technologists as IT roles become more strategic and pivotal to organizational success. Because of this, forward-thinking CIOs and aspiring digital leaders are adapting to new realities. How are these executives advancing the use of transformative technologies and workforce management techniques in the face of economic uncertainty and growing cyber risks? 

With this as a backdrop, Tech in Motion brought together leaders in the tech management industry to discuss this key topic. Seven-time CIO & Author Mark Settle led the discussion along with Lisa Cochran CIO at VyStar Credit Union; John Rosenbaum CIO at Motion Recruitment Partners; and Dr. Joe Xing CTO & Co-founder C. Light Technologies. 

Read some of their key insights below and then watch the full webinar to hear the panel's in-depth comments as they share their advice for setting your teams up for success in a rapidly changing digital landscape as they plan for 2023. 

Snapshot of the Year Ahead 

To kick it off, Settle asked the group to provide a snapshot of the year ahead for their organizations. 

Rosenbaum indicated that while his company was growing fast, they were slowing down a bit to invest in systems and platforms to do digital innovation on top of that platform. “Motion is looking at this time of economic uncertainly to invest in that foundation and be ready to spring forward when the time is right,” he said. 

He also said they were clearly defining the word “digital” for the future. “For us, digital is how we engage with our clients, candidates and consultants using technology,” he said. “However, we must balance how we automate and use technology without sacrificing the human touch, relationships and feeling of authenticity that is so important in our professional services business.”   

Cochran said her credit union was positioned for growth by expanding its footprint within its home base of Florida, making it critical to grow and scale to support new offices. A data center move is also planned. She said that since credit unions were non-profit much of their mission focuses on “how we can give back to members and communities, and as we enter into a downturn in the economy, how to be there for our members in a way that other financial institutions can’t.” This includes stepping in and helping customers who are struggling to make ends meet and extending credit to those who previously would not have qualified. 

Xing said that his start-up was founded to help millions of people who have brain or eye diseases and shorten the process of getting accurate information about their disease. “There are people who wait years or even a decade for that info,” he said. “That’s what we focus on. How do we digitize the process? How can we get that pipeline more quickly into the healthcare system.” 

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What Technologies are You Using? 

Rosenbaum asked what kind of technologies the participants were using to achieve their goals. 

Xing said that C. Light Technologies relies heavily on AI technology, including generative AI, to ingest high-quality data and make predictions, which can be generalized to many different types of disease treatments.   

Rosenbaum said Motion was standing up an “integration platform as a service” using integration and data integration to engage with constituents in a more automated way. In other words, “linking HR and staffing tools together, and enabling data to be pushed from one to the other, pulling all that data together and learning what our client, consultants and candidates prefer and communicating and engaging with them in new and exciting ways.”  

Cochran said VyStar Credit Union was investing in technology in several different ways. “One of them is augmenting our IVR and call center phone channel technology (posh ai) that helps get our members information and solve needs quicker,” she said. “If we can accomplish that with fewer people in branches and on the phone, it helps the bottom line.”   

VyStar Credit Union is also updating its credit decision models. “We are looking at the evolution of technology to remove bias and add variables to the decision,” she said. “Using an AI product to make credit decisions we are able to give more credit to people who wouldn’t have qualified under those other decision models, and it hasn’t impacted the quality of our credit portfolio.”   


The Value of Collaboration Tools 

Settle noted that it was interesting that none of the participants mentioned collaboration tools when talking about technology. He pointed out that every company as a result of COVID rolled out video conferencing, texting whiteboarding and other collaboration tools. And everybody has learned how to use those tools to create a hybrid workplace.  

Xing brought up the thought of collaboration overload. "Today there are so many tools — program management, project management, workflow, development management,” he said. “In the end, it’s all about basic communications. It’s about how you cut down on redundant communications. You want the process to have close to zero unnecessary communications. Basically, you want to know what the job is, priorities, ETAS, and how to get it down. If you can have the job clearly defined, they are the experts, so just let them get the job done. 

Rosenbaum agreed. “Tools are all fine, but it doesn’t matter if teams are not focused in the right way,” he said. “We have all been involved in constant meetings and phone calls, but it doesn’t feel that you have moved toward the goal at all. One of the most important things is how do you get everybody moving in the right direction. Saying no to a bunch of good stuff, and yes to the great things. Keep everyone focused on the long-term goal.  

Cochran said that having a hybrid model has contributed to teams working in isolation and not understanding how their work connects with others together. To alleviate that, she has set up a virtual walk-the-floor process, to get everybody to chat with her to discuss issues. 

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Key Candidate Skills 

Knowing COVID has disrupted this hiring process, Settle asked the participants to identify some of the key skills they are recruiting for and some tips or tricks they are using to solicit, screen, or onboard candidates.  

Cochran said that VyStar needs to augment teams that they don’t natively have, such as cloud-based technology systems engineers and cybersecurity engineers (always in demand at financial institutions.)  

As part of a long-term strategy, VyStar is also focused on new talent entering the workforce. Cochran spends a good bit of her time volunteering with high schools and teaching at the college level to attract more talent into the cybersecurity field, especially those groups who traditionally have been underrepresented.  

Settle brought up the thought that CIOs, “really can be the CMOs for their organizations,” when approaching prospective talent. “You really need to carve out time to tell your story in as many venues as you can, “he said. “Every organization has a reputation...Tell your story just as if you were a recruiter.”  

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Selling Corporate Culture 

All the other panelists agreed that culture was an important aspect of recruiting. 

Cochran said that Jacksonville is a very different market than on the west coast, especially when it comes to salary expectations. “We have done a lot to look at salary ranges and positions and tried to stay competitive,” she said. “Sometimes it is hard to win on salary alone. But if you are only winning on salary, you may not be attracting the right people from a culture standpoint. I always try to win on culture. A lot of work we are doing reflects on culture and making our company a place that people want to go to and work.” 

Settle said the culture in a smaller company can be beneficial because of the flexibility to wear many hats. “Especially earlier in your career, you will work with many people outside of your particular discipline and see how the business side of the company operates,” he said. “In a large company you can get stuck working in a shoebox, and the only other people you see are in your same shoebox.”  

Rosenbaum said that he uses cultural soft skills to evaluate high-quality talent. “Hungry, humble and smart are the ideal team players,” he said. “Hungry self-starters want to work hard; humble individuals are willing to make mistakes and know they are not always the smartest person in the room; and smart people are not only skills smart but possess emotional intelligence and are wise enough to navigate teams and direction in a way that is straight, direct and also kind.”  

Xing identified the top three culture attributes he tries to instill in workers and convey to candidates who he is pursuing. “Trust is number one,” he said. You cannot do everything yourself. You have to let people work in their field. Second is transparency. That’s why I like a flat hierarchy where everything is visible, with a minimum of redundant communication with the teams. And finally, care for your members, especially if you are a startup team. You care about how they work, how they feel, their emotions.”  

All in all, the CEOs seemed intent on connecting basic human qualities and understanding with the latest technologies to deliver outstanding results. 

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