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Interview with Tim Crawford

by | Dec 16, 2019 | Interviews,

Tim Crawford

Tim Crawford

CIO Strategic Advisor | Board Member | Host of The CIO In The Know podcast

Key Topics:Business Transformation, Cloud, AI, Data, IoT, Regulatory Compliance, Cybersecurity
Location:Los Angeles, USA

Tim Crawford is ranked as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Chief Information Technology Officers (#4), Top 100 Most Social CIOs (#7), Top 20 People Most Retweeted by IT Leaders (#5) and Top 100 Cloud Experts and Influencers.

Tim is a strategic CIO & advisor that works with large global enterprise organizations across a number of industries including financial services, healthcare, major airlines and high-tech. Tim’s work differentiates and catapults organizations in transformative ways through the use of technology as a strategic lever. Tim takes a provocative, but pragmatic approach to the intersection of business and technology.

Tim is an internationally renowned CIO thought leader including Digital Transformation, Cloud Computing, Data Analytics and Internet of Things (IoT). Tim has served as CIO and other senior IT roles with global organizations such as Konica Minolta/ All Covered, Stanford University, Knight-Ridder, Philips Electronics and National Semiconductor.

Tim is also the host of the CIO In The Know (CIOitk) podcast. CIOitk is a weekly podcast that interviews CIOs on the top issues facing CIOs today.

Tim holds an MBA in International Business with Honors from Golden Gate University Ageno School of Business and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems from Golden Gate University.

How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?

I have spent 30 years in the IT industry. Early on in my career I worked for smaller IT organizations but most of the companies I’ve worked for are large global enterprises. I was 21 when I started leading a group and I made my way up through the ranks to CIO. So I’m a little unique amongst influencers because I’m one of the few folks that has actually lead IT organizations for an extended period of time. Most influencers or even analysts don’t have that first-hand experience. They might have been consultants, they might have an opinion or seen things from a distance, but they haven’t necessarily worked in IT, let alone lead an IT organization. So I bring a very unique perspective that is pretty unparalleled in the industry. Which is why companies are bringing me in to get that insider knowledge and perspective of how a CIO thinks and what a CIO is concerned with. Not someone’s opinion but an experienced standpoint, to help them understand what it is they really have to be concerned with. I help clients provide research, or a first-hand perspective, or bridge the gap between what they’re hearing from their customers and how they’re interpreting that. There are a number of different ways that I can come into the conversation.

What topic areas are you most passionate about?

It all starts with the role of the CIO and understanding where that role is headed and the role of technology within business. Digital transformation of course is a big conversation point, but often I say digital transformation is really a term that that is starting to wane and it’s more about business transformation. In addition to that I would say it’s the big things like Cloud, AI and Data that come to play. Then there’s regulatory compliance and cyber security which frankly aren’t that sexy to talk about, but every single board and every single executive team is trying to figure out how to crack that nut. The problem is we’re just saying the same things over and over again and expecting different results and that’s where the frustration comes in. We’ve got to change the vernacular, we’ve got to change the approach.

What do you mean by business transformation as opposed to digital transformation?

I don’t think that tech for tech sake is a solution. We need some context. The problem is when you talk about digital transformation and just digitizing everything, what have you really gained from a business perspective? Has that increased your revenue and if so by how much? Has that increased your customer engagement and if so by how much? How do you turn that engagement back into a revenue change? Has it changed your operational efficiencies and by how much? So the problem that I find is when people talk about digital transformation blindly, they talk about it as if digital is the panacea. At the end of the day if you’re a CEO you need to know more than just “this will make us go faster” for example. What does that actually mean? Does it mean that if I spend a $1M then I’ll get $5M return? If so, can I put $2M of investment in that and get $10M? The problem is we don’t have those kinds of conversations, we’re using the wrong focus lens to look at the problem. That’s why I think we need to look at how do we transform our business first and how does technology become an enabler for that in the right ways and in the right places.

Which influencers influence you within those key topics?

There aren’t like one or 2 folks that I could easily single out unfortunately and the reason why is because IT is incredibly complicated. There is something of a misnomer that people think it’s simple but unless you’ve actually led an IT organization you don’t understand what it means. So because of that I tend to follow several folks, but it’s  a pretty small number. If you look at other influencers, they might have 10K followers and they’re following 5-10K people, but if you look at mine I have 18K followers but I only follow 400 or so people. The reason for that is twofold, one is because I want to follow CIO’s who are actually in the trenches, dealing with the matters at hand. Typically I’m interested in following more transformational CIOs as opposed to traditional ones. Secondly, I will follow folks even though I don’t necessarily agree with their opinions, I’ll still follow them because I want to know how far out in the weeds they’re getting in their conversations.

Outside of your key topics what else are you passionate about?

Technology will come and go, the people to some degree will come and go as we go through generations, but at the end of the day it’s the people that really make everything work. So organizational dynamics are something that I’m really interested in and find incredibly important to consider in all of this. For example, how do we start to rethink how we engage with not just the Boomers but also the Gen X, the Gen Y and the Gen Z? They all work very differently and the way that we’ve built applications, the way that we’ve asked people to work within an enterprise actually doesn’t work well for the mindset of the Gen Y and especially the Gen Z generations. So we have to think very differently about how we engage those folks in a meaningful way, so they feel fulfilled and they can be incredibly productive in their own way. I don’t think we’ve spent enough time thinking about this. So organizational dynamics are definitely one aspect.

The other piece is looking at how we think of ourselves from a social impact perspective. It’s not just about making money for the company, we have to think about the impact we have on economies and on the social aspects within the communities that we work within and serve. That’s something that’s only just starting to get airplay, but it’s something that we have to definitely talk more about and think more about, because we only have one planet to live on and we only have one chance to get this right. As it stands right now, we’re really screwing it up so we’ve got to figure out how can we do this from a technology perspective, what can we bring to the table?

So social impact, AI for good or technology for good, economic impact, organizational dynamics are all things that I find really interesting. The more astute and forward-thinking CIOs are also thinking about that, but you won’t see a lot of conversation amongst the opinionated folks. I often say that opinion does not replace experience, it’s easy to say “hey, do good socially” but it’s much harder in practice. We have a responsibility and I don’t think we think enough about the impact that we have.

How would you describe your offline influence?

I will say most of the insights and information I get do not come from social media, they come from the one-on-one conversations I have with other CIOs. It goes both ways, in fact probably a bigger piece of my ability is really coming from those offline connections. I take part in monthly CIO roundtables, I take part in private CIO discussions, not just one-on-one, but group discussions. I attend CIO only conferences where you don’t get to go unless you’ve been a CIO. In addition to just the CIOs I also influence financial services investors who want to understand new technologies and what is trending.  So these are all hidden networks that I can’t give you access to, but if a conversation comes up that is appropriate, I can make mention of a company that I think is appropriate to bring up. So that’s where you get access to these other networks that you otherwise might not even know about, let alone be coming up in conversation. To me that’s incredibly powerful and important, it’s more than just the social media aspect.

If a brand wanted to work with you, what offline / online activities would you be most interested in?

I think the big thing is bringing that first-hand CIO perspective to the conversation. That will manifest itself through several potential vehicles. One is through podcasts. CIO in the Know is a CIO only podcast, but because I’ve received a lot of really positive feedback I’m actually launching 3 or 4 podcasts in early 2020. These will be for brands that want to have a podcast like CIO in the know but want to bring in guest beyond just CIOs.

The 2nd thing is message testing. One of the top tech companies in the world brought me in to do message testing around their go to market, sales motion and supporting strategies. They wanted to have someone that could be the sounding board from the CIO perspective. What would resonate what wouldn’t resonate so it’s not just sending a survey out to do message testing like most people would do, but rather to have a more intimate conversation.

I also do webinars, blog posts and other types of content. Then there’s the speaking of course, I was just in Barcelona presenting the top CIO trends at VM World Europe. So it could be that, it could be video interviews. I recently did video interviews with the entire Dell executive team in Europe just talking about different trends. Again it’s bringing that CIO perspective, so it’s an executive to executive conversation.

I have also been involved in product innovation in the past, both at startups as well as enterprises. I’ve assisted startups that are in stealth mode, i.e. they have an idea, but they haven’t they haven’t even formed the company yet. So I would join them either as a board member or an advisory board member or as a consultant. The other thing I’ve done with more established brands is around product innovation and how it impacts other aspects. For example I worked with a large brand on how we engage our partners and customers and how their policy and legal team engages with people in Washington. Educating them on changes around things like artificial intelligence, because there’s a lot of negative conversations and narrative around that. The idea was to create a more balanced view of AI for good, so they brought me in as someone who had pragmatic practical experience to help guide them. There are several different ways that I have been leveraged as someone that understands this first-hand and brings a very unique perspective to the conversation.

Which non-paid activities would you be keen to take part in if the opportunity raised your profile or delivered value to your audience?

If the brand is the right brand and there’s the potential there, then yes there are certain light touch, less time intensive activities I would consider. I have to be careful about “free activities” and the amount of time I spend on them because I could spend my entire day, every day doing freebies. If it’s the right brand and the right opportunity that has the potential for leading to something broader down the down the road, then sure. The difficulty is you don’t know that up front so you have to make a judgement call and ask yourself “Is this a brand that I could see potentially working with?” If I don’t see where I would provide value for them long-term then the answer would be no. If I can see potential for a deeper relationship in the future, then sure I’d be open to considering those.

What’s your best source of information for getting ahead of a story?

I find that the best sources of information come from other CIOs. Also being part of the brand’s analyst program. As an independent analyst I’m part of a number of different programs, last week I was at Amazon’s reinvent analyst summit and 2 weeks before that I was at Dell and Intel before that. So, the analyst programs I find to be incredibly valuable.

I’m a little more gun shy of the influencer programs that some organisations have started. The reason why is because quite often they view it as “hey we have paid for your travel to come here and we want you just to tweet, and we want you just to write a blog post”. Those types of arrangements are not interesting to me, it’s really just the brand using the influencer almost for free or for very low prices and that just doesn’t work for me. The problem is you don’t get access to the executives that I really value and resonate with. Typically I’m part of an executive program within a conference, whether I’m speaking at it or attending and that’s interesting because a I get access to information so I get something out of it. Plus it’s also a marketing opportunity for me to be able to potentially drum up some business.

Are there  any brands you haven’t worked with that you’d really like to work with?

Most of the folks that I’ve worked with are enterprise software and hardware vendors. I haven’t worked with most of the financial services brands and if I have worked in particular industries beyond enterprise hardware and software, more than likely it’s been their IT organizations from an end-user standpoint. So I would work with their CIO and help them through their own internal transformation journey as opposed to something more externally facing.

Are there any organisations you are affiliated to or part of a long-term program with?

No. In fact I have a hard and fast rule that because I work with end-users, I do not take part in the partner programs for any vendor. So if I do have a long term relationship with the company it’s only because they have engaged me to do work with them internally either externally facing or internally from an IT perspective. I will not endorse any company product solution because I work with end-users and that objectivity is part of my value.

What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?

People can also always can get in touch with me through my accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn.