Today’s geek must wear multiple hats and have a good head for business

CIOs and IT teams can no longer serve their organisations with technical skills alone, they must be multi-disciplined with training and experience in many different areas of business. For example, in the digital transformation of procurement this includes a clear understanding of how technology investments will serve their organisation’s future growth.

I was lucky to learn this early on in my career thanks to a life-changing mistake in my university enrolment. Twenty years ago, when I was looking at the job market and planning my career, corporate IT departments were still made up of stereotypical geeks – mostly guys in bad-boy t-shirts with dubious grooming. They would emerge from the basement to fiddle with computer monitors while speaking to the users in monosyllables.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be one of those IT guys. It was my dream to sit below ground all day with unwashed hair cranking out code. I certainly didn’t want to have to put on a suit and start talking to people. But even then, the market was changing fast and it might only be thanks to a typo on my application for university that I’ve been able to stay in the game.

Double degree a good fit for today’s digital markets

While checking the box for Computer science, I accidentally also checked the box above it, for Commerce, and unintentionally applied for a double degree. Back then the two courses didn’t have much in common except that they began with the letter ‘c’. But as it turned out, they helped me develop the right educational backdrop to compete as an IT specialist in today’s markets.

Of course, I didn’t figure any of this out straight away. When I first got to campus in Western Australia, from Finland, questions kept coming up like why was my tuition so much more expensive than the other computing students? Why did I have so many more courses? And why was I in an accounting class, which wasn’t fun and not a good fit with coding – too much confusion with the terms. It was only after I managed to get an audience with the Dean that the mistake was uncovered. By then it was too late to change and it was all paid up so I agreed to push on. But here’s the important part, instead of accounting, the Dean slid me over into a new course just starting up. It was called e-commerce. And I haven’t looked back.

Knowing the why behind the what

By the time I joined Cloudia, in start-up mode, a few years later, I had already come to understand that digital technology, while being exciting to me, could never be an end in itself. Technology must always be focused on the needs of the business. That means understanding the whole value chain and knowing the why behind each technological what.

IT is centrally important in transforming procurement. But in developing digital procurement software with my team, we have to understand what’s going on in the supplier market that the software is being designed to serve. That includes being up to speed on pricing, what competitors are doing as well as product demand. Similarly, if we want to design tools to help our customers expand their profitability then we have to understand what’s keeping their leaders awake at night and how the right technology might bring them a new competitive advantage.

Certainly, my cross-disciplinary degree in computing and e-commerce helped prepare me for this kind of holistic thinking. That’s why as Head of R&D at Cloudia, I’ve made a point of cooperating with universities and polytechnics and developing research partnerships. We want to encourage students to take a working-life-oriented look at their studies while creating connections with future employers. And of course, from our side, we also want to ensure a steady flow of IT graduates with the right competitive skillset range.

Geeks need good people skills!

Digital literacy and computer science remain highly-valued skills in a CIO or IT professional, but only if they combine with basic market knowhow, a good head for business, and what’s hardest of all for us geeks to accept, good people skills! Hiding away in the basement is no longer an option; we have to be comfortable on the top floor as well, discussing digital blue prints for our organisation’s strategy and vision.

Thanks to my early mistake, I can say I was better prepared to face this future of wearing multiple hats, and that’s not just to cover my bad grooming.

Today’s geek must wear multiple hats and have a good head for business

Lasse Riekkinen
Director, R&D and Production


Learn more about the CIO’s role in digital procurement transformation, find out how AI and other emerging technologies affect knowledge management in procurement or download our guide to eSourcing.

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