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‘Helping clients avoid becoming corporate dodos’: IBM’s Chris Howard

Jennifer O'Brien | July 3, 2017
Howard talks disruption and industry transformation.


IBM Chris Howard admits he likes to get his “hands dirty” when it comes to IT, and also likes a good challenge. He has been “passionate about innovative technology” for the past 20 years, and now, more than ever, as head of digital strategy at Big Blue.

Ensconced in IT for the past 20 years, Howard has experience across digital strategy, data value creation and business incubation. He is IBM’s former technical leader and chief architect for big data and analytics across the Asia Pacific region.

Now as CTO of digital strategy at IBM Australia/New Zealand, his remit involves partnering with c-suite executives to create, visualise, and achieve digital strategies that enable innovation, growth, and modern business reinvention. He aims to leverage four key pillars: agile, devops, emerging technology and data.

IBM's Chris Howard
IBM's Chris Howard

CIO Australia caught up with Howard who said he’s excited about the road ahead, and particularly the immense opportunities that digital brings to the table.


How and why do you like to get your “hands dirty?” Can you explain that, and how it applies to your CTO role?

Chris Howard: The phrase is really around remaining technically relevant, so that I can be credible, provide insight and deliver a point of view around disruptive/emerging technologies. This comes down to keeping abreast through application and experimentation. In my role, this is also about working the technology backwards to value. It is typically not the technology that drives disruption (much of this is down to the business model; technology is the enabler), and so I need to understand the business outcomes, and the value to be derived, if we were to leverage a given technology.


What are your main objectives in your current CTO digital strategy role?

CH: This comes down to a handful of key things, but at its heart it's all about assisting our clients with the challenges of digital. How to navigate disruption and industry transformation. How do we programmatically address disruption and the shifts taking place to accommodate the future? How do we innovate, differentiate and transform user relationships through digital (strategy, operations and technology)?

Digital reinvention is centred around experiences, enabled through a range of digital drivers covering areas such as emerging business models, responsive operations (IoT), actionable insights and emerging technologies.

Many of the industry disruptors are coming from a business model perspective, but technology is the common enabler here that fuels much of the opportunity to disrupt. How do we shift to a faster pace of execution - addressing the need to adopt agile ways of working, drive faster execution (experimentation, fail fast) supported with the right transformation around people and capabilities to fuel and sustain this shift. This is a mindset shift to new ways of working, a new leadership approach, new team design and a new culture.

How do we exploit the business value of data? As organisations look to move beyond optimising to democratising and finally monetising their data assets, what strategies do they need to employ? This is a key one with my background in the big data/analytics space and an area I am seeing increasing interest in.


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