‘CIOs must constantly look at how technology can disrupt the market’

22 Jan 2021

Steve Cairns. Image: Exigent

Exigent’s chief information officer discusses his thoughts on tech strategy, security and impact of the mass movement to remote working.

Steve Cairns is the chief information officer of Exigent, a consultancy firm that offers technology, strategy and consulting services for legal departments and C-suite executives.

In this role, he is responsible for tech strategy, IT operations and cybersecurity. The nature of his role also allows him to work as CIO for other companies in a variety of industries.

Cairns has more than 30 years’ experience working in the UK, US, Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, having held various IT management and CIO roles. Here, he discusses his thoughts on tech strategy, security and impact of the mass movement to remote working.

‘The tech strategy needs to be a core element of the business strategy’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

I am Exigent’s chief information officer, based in London, UK. I joined in October 2019 and am responsible for the technology strategy, client-facing products, IT operations and cybersecurity.

I work with Exigent on a fractional basis, which allows me to work as CIO or CTO for other companies in a variety of industries including construction, logistics and retail. This has afforded me the opportunity to consider a number of different perspectives when driving Exigent’s tech strategy.

One of the key initiatives that we kicked off in 2020 was to reimagine Exigent’s future when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. A ‘plan ahead team’ was made up of colleagues from a variety of locations, functions and roles, and we were empowered with looking at a variety of client and colleague-facing initiatives that would help ensure Exigent’s growth. Many were tech-based and the results of our efforts are proving extremely valuable.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

We have a number of exciting initiatives in flight right now. In addition to developing groundbreaking AI and machine learning solutions for our clients, we are moving our technology platforms to the cloud, rolling out an enterprise resource planning system, embedding a global collaboration platform that has proven extremely valuable during lockdown, rolling out a state-of-the-art client and colleague-facing service desk solution, and developing some amazing tech that is helping us to reinvent ourselves and support a much more dynamic workforce.

How big is your team?

We have a client-facing technology product development and testing team in India and an IT service management and infrastructure management team in both India and South Africa. I am based in London, so that makes for a really diverse and versatile global team.

We have strategic partnerships with exciting companies that help us to develop groundbreaking solutions for our clients, as well as supporting the internal needs of our colleagues across the globe.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

It is critical for a CIO to constantly look at how technology can help to create value for the business and our clients, not only transforming how things are done, but positioning the organisation to offer something unique to our clients; to disrupt the market.

The tech strategy needs to be a core element of the business strategy, supporting a roadmap for business growth. In these challenging times, technology can really help to connect employees that are no longer office-based, drive up productivity, engage with our clients in a more meaningful way and allow us to deliver amazing services.

The future of work is clearly going to involve a hybrid working culture, with a more agile approach to business change. This, however, needs to be mixed in with a solid foundation in good process and great communications. I believe that this is what will make us responsive to new business opportunities, be a trusted partner for our clients and ensure that we are resilient to the changing world we now find ourselves in.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the future of work from an IT perspective?

I believe that moving to the cloud is a foundational tech strategy. Systems, infrastructure and communications are all now leveraging the internet. We’re escaping from the burden of on-premises systems that have business continuity risks associated, as well as latency challenges when supporting a global workforce and client base.

The ability to operate as a truly global business, deliver the highest quality services to our clients and stay resilient to whatever challenges are thrown our way is a goal that I’m sure many CIOs share.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

As we move from an office-based to a hybrid workforce, employees are no longer connecting their computers to the secure company network and being protected by the office firewall. It’s critically important that we look at two perspectives: the technology and the people. From a tech perspective, we need to have the ability to deploy, monitor, patch, protect, manage and assess our valuable computer assets, regardless of where they are being used.

Acknowledging that the human element is often the weakest element in a company’s cyber defences, it’s also important to ensure that they are as well informed as possible to spot suspicious activity, such as a phishing attack or a social engineering call.

We have recently embarked on a global cybersecurity training and testing programme to address that risk. The workforce needs to be as well prepared to defend the organisation just as much as our cybersecurity tools. These two elements need to work in harmony for us to better protect our data.

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