What will it take for Chief Information Officers to be strategic and compete effectively in 2022? The Global Chief Technology Officer of EY, Nicola Morini Bianzino, explains how CIOs can prioritize information technology investments today.

The in-depth conversation includes these topics:

With a 20 year track record of driving technology strategy innovation, Nicola Morini Bianzino advises global clients on technology investment and their innovation agendas, providing industrialized technology products to meet their most pressing business needs. An early AI pioneer, he wrote a thesis on the application of neural networks to business in 1997.

Nicola is a high-profile global media commentator and contributes to MIT Sloan Management Review, Forbes and HBR. A thought leader on AI, machine learning, innovation and big data. 

Transcript

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The work of the CIO has always been very strategic for every enterprise. We shifted 350,000 people from 85% of the people being in the office on a Friday to having everyone work from home on Monday morning. That wouldn't be possible without a significant technology infrastructure investment.

About EY and Nicola Morini Bianzino

Michael Krigsman: We're discussing technology investment planning for 2022 with Nicola Morini Bianzino. He is the global chief technology officer at EY.

You were a professional basketball player before you became the CTO of this huge company.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yeah, I was. I was. It feels like in another life now, right?

I spent 15 years of my life playing in the professional basketball league in Europe. From there, I started my consulting career and then my last job, this one, as the CTO of EY. Very different but also similar in some respects.

Michael Krigsman: People talk about our modern work life as going through different phases of their career but going from being a professional athlete to being a global CTO, that's a real shift.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: I had to make a little bit of a jump, right? Was I equipped perfectly when I started my consulting career? Probably not, but I think sports is kind of a microcosm of life in general.

I know it sounds a little bit cliché, but there are lots of similarities in the way you approach a sports performance and what you need to do, for example, corporate strategy, how you interact, teamwork, the fact that you're trying to be an organization that strives for a vision and ambition, which in sports is like winning a game or winning a season. In the corporate life, maybe it's to achieve some specific performance target.

There are similarities. There are, of course, things that are different. I don't need to take care, fortunately, of my body the same way I had to do when I was playing basketball, but the competition is out there no matter where you are in the world. And so, I think that was a great school for me.

Michael Krigsman: You're in a very competitive environment now in enterprise technology. To start, give us a sense of your role as global CTO, what do you do, and just a little bit of context about EY.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: EY, as you said, we're about a $40 billion company. Our employee count changes on a daily basis, actually, but we're about 350,000 people. We operate in almost 200 countries, so a very, very large corporation.

We have four main businesses.

  • Tax is one, so tax consulting, and also we do a lot of tax prep work for our clients.
  • Assurance audit is our largest business.
  • Then we have a very strong consulting practice that has effectively three divisions. One is specific on business. The other one is on technology, and the third one is on strategy.
  • Finally—I think is part of still the consulting organization—we are in a business called transaction, which is focused on M&A, so a very, very large portfolio of businesses across a complex environment globally.

What is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) job description?

Michael Krigsman: Of course, EY is a professional services organization. In your role as a global chief technology officer, what does that encompass?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The way we have organized technology at EY, effectively we had divided into two areas which, when that decision was made, I think it was very forward-looking.

We have an organization under my colleague Steve George, the CIO, that is specialized in the operations of the enablement technologies that we use in the firm. For example, our ERP implementations internally, our billing systems, everything to do with productivity suite, networks in the offices, and so on.

Then I represent another part of the business, which is connected to the growth. I'm responsible for all the technology that generates revenue for the firm. My job is to work with our business organizations to build technologies that they need to deliver the services, which is very interesting because I think it shows that the future of technology in our organization is made of these two different dimensions, the dimension that is focused on operations and another one that is focused on growth.

The other interesting thing, I think, for my role is that I sit on the board of the firm, which was a very important statement that our CEO Carmine Di Sibio wanted to pass to the markets, but also internally, the fact that technology is so important that we have a representative for technology sitting on the board at the same level as the leaders of the business organizations.

Michael Krigsman: Your part of technology is extremely strategic to the firm. Obviously, as evidenced by the fact that you sit on the board.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: That was the key message. I'm the first technologist, actually, that sits on the board of EY from the beginning of the firm. And so, that was, of course, not about me. It was about the message.

We believe that technology is a factor of production for us, and so the same way that labor and capital are. And so, that's why the message was that as we launch our strategy for the 2020s was to underline the importance of technology in that context.

How should IT approach technology investment planning?

Michael Krigsman: As you talk with your various clients across many different industries, many different company sizes, as you look across EY, how do you start to break down the thought process of planning for the investments that you make in technology or that we, as business people, should make, in general?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Of course, this is something that we have to deal with at EY a lot, right. I have to speak to a lot of clients all the time, and they always ask me the same question, "How should I look at investments?"

Honestly, I don't think I have figured it out completely. [Laughter] But there are some things, I think, that we need to take into account as that thought process gets executed.

The first one is that we always say that, but I think it's more true now than it was probably five or ten years ago. We live in a macroeconomic environment that is complex, super dynamic. The pandemic is one element, but there are also a lot of other things in the way.

If you think about, for example, even ten years ago, right after the financial crisis, the markets experienced, I guess, a starvation of the demand for goods and services. Now, the problem is the supply of goods and services.

We live in a constantly evolving economic environment, and so being able (these days) to use a traditional approach to budgeting, which is usually based on the fact that IT is considered a function within an enterprise on a 12-month lifecycle, yearly lifecycle, it's not sufficient anymore.

The market moves fast. The macroeconomic framework throws unexpected things at us every day. Inflation is rising, supply chain problems, and so on. We need, I think, all of us, to think about how we deal with that level of complexity.

When I talk to a lot of my colleagues, they all say, "I don't have the flexibility anymore to be able to plan for an investment that is two, three years down in the future, so I have to do it almost on a quarterly basis. Even on that quarterly basis, I have to be able to adjust and constantly evolve the direction with the business."

The need for speed dynamism, I think, is calling for a different approach than the traditional approach to the budgetary IT function.

Michael Krigsman: Which, of course, then begs the question, what is that approach?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: What we have done is that we've been disciplined in terms of establishing the dichotomy in the sense that, of course, there are lots of operational costs that we have to deal with every year. Those don't change that much year after year, but we manage to set them in a place where we can control them, we can manage them, and most importantly we can forecast what the impact is going to be.

Then everything that is related to growth, we are treating it in a different way, meaning we're shifting from a mindset focused on the function of technology to the business of technology, which means that our investments are very much anchored on specific products that are embedded in our service offerings. That means that we are creating pro forma P&Ls for each one of the products that then will tell us if the product is driving those benefits it is supposed to drive.

We went from a mechanism where we were allocating – effectively, giving a check – to all the business functions to do their own technology development to forcing the business functions to adopt a product-centric approach. In other to get the funding, they had to show that there is a product that they want to build. The product has to be compatible with our technology platform. And that product has to have its own business case and lifecycle (like any other product). If the product is not driving those benefits that it's supposed to drive, we're going to terminate it.

I don't think it's a particularly genius approach or radically different, but it's an approach that requires a lot of discipline. But when you get that discipline in place, I think the benefits are really great.

How to create alignment between technology investments and business outcomes?

Michael Krigsman: Well, it seems like this approach would force an alignment between the technology and the desired outcomes. We all know the history of large, failed IT projects where, in too many cases, IT says, "Oh, we did this great project. It was on time, it was within budget, and a win to the business." You said, "IT did this thing. I don't even know what it is or why they did it."

Nicola Morini Bianzino: I have always had that kind of a little bit of a problem with this concept of the digital transformation. Not that we don't need the digital transformation. Of course, every organization needs to become digital, so that goes without saying. But the way sometimes these initiatives are managed, first of all, are open-ended and they're very much focused on, I think, to find a good technology, a cool technology that we want to adopt but without really linking it with that level of discipline to a business outcome.

If you think about our services, especially our jobs are very much judgment-based across all of what we do, and they require a lot of data analysis. They require a lot of intelligence and expertise. And so, if we don't use technology properly to deliver those services, we're going to be at a disadvantage.

But that kind of an understanding and awareness on the business side, that link has to be in place in order to be able to fund and develop products. I think is something that not always is present.

Michael Krigsman: As you work across multiple clients and you see patterns and trends across the industry, do you see a growing recognition or awareness that this link must be there?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Absolutely. I see it, for example, as one of the most sought-after skill sets in the technology marketplace, funny enough, these days. There are effectively two, I think.

One is cloud architecture. Cloud architecture is a hot commodity in the marketplace.

But the other one can be surprising. But if you think about it, it's understandable, is product managers. A good product manager is critical, and so it shows that there is more and more understanding and demand in the market for this type of skill set.

Then everyone in the market, as well, talks about platforms. No matter what business you are in, having a platform strategy is key.

These types of discussions were very common years ago, of course, in the technology companies, but I'm starting to see that shift also in other sectors.

What is the Chief Information Officer role and CIO responsibilities?

Michael Krigsman: Let's talk about the CIO role. Many of the folks who watch CXOTalk are involved with IT. You've kind of laid out a general set of priorities and approaches but, as a practical matter, how does this impact the work of the chief information officer?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The work of the CIO has always been very strategic for every enterprise. It's very important. Sometimes there is not that full acknowledgment, but we all know. Especially for us, we are in the position (for enterprise) how important it is that the IT systems are working as expected, especially if you think about the pandemic.

For us, we shifted 350,000 people from 85% of the people being in the office on a Friday to having everyone work from home on Monday morning. That wouldn't be possible without a significant technology infrastructure investment.

But unfortunately, what happens in some companies is that there is still the kind of push of, "Oh, yeah, but that's IT. It's a function," like talent. It could be procurement and others.

There is that kind of an assumption that it's a function. It needs to be funded as a function. I need, in that position, as a CIO, more an administrator of outsourcing contracts than a partner of the business.

To me, that is what is the challenge moving forward is that we need to evolve and our role of CIOs and CTOs in the enterprise to become more and more partners of the business. That requires, in some cases, a different skillset or an evolution of ourselves towards that direction. But that's what effectively the business needs. Much less they need the operator.

I think the operations, it's important, but in a cloud world, I think those things are going to become a little bit easier for us. Should take less time. And so, we need to focus more on that kind of support and partnership with the business.

Michael Krigsman: When you talk about the need for the CIO to be closely aligned with the business, it seems like such an obvious kind of statement.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yes.

Michael Krigsman: What are the obstacles, the impediments, or the challenges that interfere with that happening?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: A couple of things. If you think even about the title, the chief information officer, it's a title that shows how do you use information in a way that is strategic within the enterprise.

This is happening at times. Sometimes it's not happening because I think we get bogged down a lot by the operational issues. Most of the CIOs that I know and work with, they all have struggled with the same problem.

It's all good and great. I want to be a partner of the business. I want to work with the business to change and to evolve this enterprise but, at the same time, you know what? I have lots of tickets that I need to address for my ERP systems or my network and security and so on.

We get dragged down into that endless cycle of operations that subtracts time from our ability to be dedicated to more strategic topics. That's why we have split the function.

I don't deal a lot, fortunately, [laughter] with operational issues. Steve does it with me. But that frees up my time. There has to be that acknowledgment that if you really want technology to be evolving as one of the drivers for growth, we need to give the opportunity to CIOs and CTOs to really work in that space versus being dragged down by that.

What is the impact of technical debt on innovation?

Michael Krigsman: I suppose also when there's an overabundance of technical debt that has to be recovered, that takes time, energy, and resources away from innovation as well.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Exactly, so that's another issue. I've seen organizations where up to 85% to 90% of the budget of the year is consumed by technical debt. This is a self-reinforcing issue because, every year, it becomes worse.

What we have done, I can tell you what we have done internally. I don't know if it's the right answer, but it worked for us.

I went to the board. I said, "If we continue with the growth of our technology," which is a great thing, "we'll end up having to use all our budget to pay for cloud consumption, and so we will not have the resources to dedicate to the build of new technology."

The board decided, "You know what? We're going to change the way we budget for variable consumption of technology resources." Instead of being funded through the yearly budget, it gets distributed and allocated based on consumption. And so, it becomes a variable cost, but at least we don't have a disincentive to the adoption of technology because we cannot afford to pay for the consumption cost.

I think this is a problem. It's common to a lot of organizations. But I think the cloud can help because it helps to variabilize a fixed cost.

If you had to manage a data center, you don't really have a lot of options. Of course, you can pro-rata the cost across different indicatives, but it's much more difficult. With cloud billing and economic models, I think that becomes much easier. We are in a situation where most of it is variable, so it depends on the level of adoption of the technology itself.

What is the relationship between CIO and CTO?

Michael Krigsman: We have a great question coming in now from Wayne Anderson. He says that the CIO role has been changing so rapidly over the last four or five years. How does this evolution change the nature of the relationship between the CIO and the CTO to position the CIO for success in 2022 going forward?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: We talked about the CIO, but if you look at the role of the CTO, I think there are major changes there as well. Traditionally, at least in my experience, the CTO has been always like sort of a chief architect of an enterprise for technology.

The CTO was the one to decide which kind of technology we should use, not use, and so on. A lot of the time that was available was invested actually in software selection or other types of activities specifically targeted on architecture-related topics.

I think, with the emergence of the cloud, what happens is that – at least this is what we do at EY – almost by default, we revert to the particular technology component that is available to the main cloud that we have adopted. It doesn't mean that we are a single cloud. No, we are multi-cloud and hybrid cloud at the same time. But if we are on one of the main clouds, by default, if we had to do some AI work, we tend to use that tool. If we need to do data work, we tend to use the tool that that particular provider offers.

That, I think, actually streamlines a lot of the software selection process. There is way less work that needs to be done in terms of technology strategy in detail.

The role of the CTO becomes more of almost (I want to say) an internal consultant for technology. And so, it's more about the vision and where we want to go versus should I use product A or product B. That decision is kind of made already by the cloud provider or the cloud stack. I don't want to use this like a blanket statement, but it's that.

If you think about that evolution of the CTO role, maybe you need also different types of people in that position as well, people that are more kind of truly at the intersection of the business and technology.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from LinkedIn that touches this precisely. This is from Anshuman Das, who says, "Aside from hiring new talent, what is your advice regarding closing the talent and skill gaps with existing practitioners in a technology organization?"

Nicola Morini Bianzino: What we had done internally, it worked for us. Again, it depends on the specific situation.

One thing that I noticed (when I came over in the role) is that we had a cultural gap. We had a lot of people that were really good at doing very specific tasks, and they can operate very well.

We were incentivizing them based on operational metrics. Can we meet the SLAs? Yes or no. If we can, great job. If we cannot, we need to do something about it.

The world, I think, in the future would be different. We focused a lot on giving people an opportunity.

The other thing that happened was happening before this. We had a lot of specialists, so we had DDAs, we had system engineers, and so on.

What I noticed is that people want to learn and want to grow in their careers, so what we did is that we offered two things.

One was a tech MBA. We gave the opportunity to all the technology people. We had a collaboration with academic institutions to learn more about the business. We've been focusing on getting technology people to move on the business side, as well as giving them the opportunity to learn more about the business.

The second dimension is that we came in and, using the same approach that we had took for our consulting organization, created a technology career path that was much more defined. People felt that, yes, they were great at doing what they were doing, but also they had the opportunity to grow. That empowered them (with tools, capabilities, and so on) to actually grow.

Of course, not everyone can make the leap. Unfortunately, that is the reality of things. We had very little attrition. Even these days when technology talent is in dire need for everyone, our attrition rates are really, really low compared to the industry average. I think we're doing something good about that.

Michael Krigsman: Another question from Arsalan Khan is asking about the role of enterprise architecture in all this.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yes.

Michael Krigsman: I have to say, I love the questions that come in from Twitter and LinkedIn. We jump around a little bit, but the questions are great. I encourage everybody watching; just keep going.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: When the decision of going with one cloud stack has been made as a primary one, the role of enterprise architecture changes. It's not anymore again to choose which API management layer should I use versus what AI tool should I use because it comes kind of with the package of the cloud stack.

The role of the enterprise architecture, in my mind, is more about the creation of those templates, methods, and tools that are specific to the enterprise. It's less about "let me choose the tool." It's more about taking the tool that is available and making it relevant and applicable to our own environment.

For example, we have an enterprise architecture function, of course, at EY. They're very much focused on developing the service architecture, the standards, and the developer experience because we use a lot of third parties, actually, to help us do the work, and so we want to make sure that whatever we develop, we develop according to those standards.

There's been a little bit interesting, a little bit the opposite of what happened for some of the other functions. Much more inward-focused and really very much directed towards the establishment of the standards and best practices around development as we use tools that are available through the cloud stacks.

Michael Krigsman: We have yet another question coming in from Twitter. This is again from Arsalan. The impact of technology on changing the roles – we were just talking about the roles that people play – how will technology affect that?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yeah, automation, depending on how we define automation. Without getting into too much of that philosophical debate, I think, in general, even if you think about probably advanced AI, which is not quite there yet but it's getting there, I don't think our job will be affected that much. The tasks that we perform within our jobs are going to be affected a lot.

I'm a believer of the centaur model where you have technology plus the human together. I don't think that technology will ever replace the human.

If I look at our business, I don't see a future where we have robots doing audits or robots giving advice to clients. That's not going to happen.

However, if you don't use technology to improve your judgment, then, of course, you're going to be very quickly nonrelevant in an economic system. If you are a consultant in the supply chain, for example, and you don't use a decent analysis of the marketplace or flows of trade and all of those kinds of things, you're not going to give the right type of advice.

I think it's really about combining the human and the machine. And so, we will do different things in the future, but our jobs will still be there – 100%.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question on exactly this topic from Twitter. Again, this is from Wayne Anderson. Wayne Anderson and Arsalan Khan are on a roll. They're really into it. Wayne wants to know how are global skills going to need to change as we move forward, and what should folks do today to break out of this ops view (the operations view) in order to plan for the future and to contribute in more innovative ways to the organization?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The global initiative is a challenge. I'm not saying anything earth-shattering at this point, but we truly live in a global world and there is no alternative to global teams.

If I look at the pandemic, I sit in Silicon Valley or I sit in Switzerland, it doesn't really matter, right? I'm still working with the same team.

One thing that is sometimes missing is the ability, the cultural empathy. To me, in order to create the global team, it's less about the skills, the hard skills for technology. It's more about the ability for people to be empathetic and reward diversity, understand cultural backgrounds so that we can be more effective.

Still, I think it's a little bit of a barrier to create efficient, global teams. The ability of understanding that whatever I say or I think, as I perform my duties in the United States, it might be read in a different way in Europe or in Asia. That is still something that I think requires from all of us to get more empathetic about that.

Then in terms of the operation, it's really complicated. One of the things that we had done is that it took quite a few months to do it, but we went to the zero budgeting type of an approach as well, first. Then we went to the zero budgeting plus product approach, product-centric approach.

I think it happens to every enterprise. It requires a lot of support from the top. The farther you go in, you had to justify again why you need to pay for this particular technology.

Usually, the answer is that people say that because it's sunk cost, right? "I spent, in these accounts, for the last ten years. Why do you want to stop now?"

But it's almost a band-aid, right? At some point, we need to rip it off.

I know it's easy to say, very difficult to do, but it's inevitable. I think zero-based budgeting, for us, has been helping quite a bit.

Michael Krigsman: It's very interesting to hear you talk about technology as being a sunk cost in that way because that's kind of the nice corporate way of saying, "You know, we've always done it this way, and we're always going to do it this way because we've always done it this way."

Nicola Morini Bianzino: We discover things like, for example, we were paying for supporting applications that had 2 users – 2 users in our context is nothing with 350,000 people – or maybe one client.

Sometimes, it was easier for us to go to the client and say, "You know what? We had discontinued this application, but we have a new one that replaces it. It's time to move on."

I know it's not that easy. It's one of the most difficult things that can be done in our jobs. But the starting point is always that kind of strong support from the business and then making them understand that if we do that, then there will be more money for the growth initiatives.

Michael Krigsman: Chris Peterson asks, "With the shifting focus and business model of the CTO organization and the CIO organization, how does EY handle the flow of new products from one to the other as they become operational?" In other words, the practical handoffs, how you work with the CIO organization.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: First of all, we try not to have any duplication. We went through an extensive analysis of making sure that, for example, when we do a help desk, there is only one help desk. It's managed in a consistent way, so we try not to replicate that. Second, we tend to keep, again, the revenue-generating technology separate from the enablement technology.

There are touchpoints that happen. For example, if you think about our presence on the Web. It could be both. It's revenue-generating because it attracts customers. Or the CRM tool, for example. It's revenue-generating and, at the same time, enablement. When that happens, we jointly manage.

Actually, it happens less than what I thought (at the beginning) because we built an organization, the two organizations, as fit for purpose, so again, avoiding overlap.

Whenever we had this sense that, "Oh, maybe we're doing these things twice," like it happens when you manage, for example, workflow tools or things like that, we had to sit down and be very clear.

We like to manage in a very disciplined way and say, "No. If this fits this particular criteria, it's with you. If not, it's with me."

Then on top of it, we create an organization – we borrowed the concept from technology companies, so it's nothing new – called Customer Success that effectively acts as sort of a broker or triage mechanism. Whenever a demand comes in, the rest of the business sees it as a technology request that's going to the technology organization. But then, behind the scenes, we triage it and send it to the appropriate team. There is a one-stop shop for technology at EY. Actually, behind it, we created teams to have different characteristics because the work is different.

Role of CIO and CTO in achieving ESG goals?

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from LinkedIn. Again, this is from Anshuman Das. I'm getting this question a lot from people, in general, recently. That is, can you share the role of the CIO and CTO in achieving ESG goals?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: First, we started thinking about the ESG as actually different, and so we had to create the sort of bolt-on that was specialized in ESG. Then, very quickly, we realized that actually if we are serious about ESG, it has to be everywhere.

What we had done is that we have an organization, of course, that takes the leadership in terms of pushing the strategy and the vision that we have around ESG, but then, from a technology perspective, we have effectively equipped all our main programs and activities with an ESG dedicated person versus trying to do everything.

In some cases, I've seen it in the past where you have the chief digital officer that acts on top of everybody, which is difficult to make happen efficiently because usually, they don't have a portfolio. The other guys say, "Why are you intruding in my business?" and so on.

That bolt-on approach didn't really work out very well for us. We tried. That's why we're now reverting to an approach where whenever we build something or we launch something, one of the questions that we ask ourselves is to say, "What is the ESG implication?" from a conceptual perspective.

Are we there yet (across the board)? No, but I think we like this approach much better than the previous one.

Michael Krigsman: Essentially, you're trying to build in ESG awareness and action into what your to-dos are.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The products versus having a team on the side screaming and saying, "Oh, you need to do more ESG." No, it's part of the way we want to develop and deploy products. It has to be aware of that with those thematics as well.

Michael Krigsman: I suppose when you have an issue that you believe is strategic, then that's the right way to do it, as opposed to saying, "Well, let's have a bunch of ESG activities." No, we're going to bake it into what we do.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: In my life, a lot of AI work, and when you think about six, seven years ago when there was this not picking up again of AI as the main topic, one of the things that was happening is that people started working on a lot of use cases. But these use cases were kind of disconnected from each other. They were not based on this kind of "we want to have AI everywhere."

This disconnect created a situation where the business value return was not that great. Some of these roadmaps looked like a lot of dots.

I'm a believer, for example, for AI and data (but also for ESG, these days) that those capabilities have to be embedded. They have to native into the products that we build versus bolt-on with a bunch of use cases around the enterprise.

Michael Krigsman: Yes, it makes perfect sense. We have another question from Twitter. Oftentimes, we hear advice to technologists about understanding the business, but what can we as technologists do to help business folks understand our domain?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: My best example was that I show up and the business guys say, "Oh, we need to be more agile," as an example.

I said, "Do you know what that means, though?" It's nice to say it, but it's not.

Basically, most of my business colleagues, they said that they wanted agile, but it was a unidirectional agile, so we want the technology people to be reactive and do whatever the business wants, of course, but as everything had to be delivered by a certain date with a certain scope and with a certain budget. It was a combination of agile and waterfall.

The people that were actually under pressure in this model were the technology people because the business said, "Oh, you had to be agile, so I can change the requirements at the last minute," as long as you deliver it by Monday anyway, right?

It wasn't really a fair deal, and so what I did is [laughter] I bought a bunch of books. I'm not going to say because I don't want to advertise the book, but it was a very nice book about product management that I very much enjoyed reading.

I gave it to all my leadership colleagues in the board and in other forums. Then I said, "You guys need to read about this because it's different."

Now, are we out of the woods? No, but at least I think they're starting to understand that there is another world out there, which is the world of technology. The world of technology works differently. When we deliver a piece of software, it's black or white. Is it working or not?

Sometimes, in the business, especially in a consulting organization, it's maybe more shades of gray. But when you think about that, in order to have that black and white outcome, you need a level of discipline and understanding of the challenges of each other.

Have we solved the problem? No, but at least there is a little bit of awareness. We spend time to try to educate the business organization. I think that is critical, by the way.

Advice for CIOs on technology investment planning?

Michael Krigsman: Given all these things that we've been discussing, what advice do you have for chief information officers at this time regarding technology and investment planning?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Sometimes we need to be bolder with the business organization. Bolder means that the role that technology has to play these days, it's gigantic.

We had, in the '90s, the role of the CIO coming together. A big year of PC systems and all of that. But I think, these days, the way we consume technology is really unprecedented (without even having to go to the metaverse or these things that are a little bit down the road).

If you think about how do we interact with technology and what businesses need to do to be relevant, there is no business without technology. And so, be bolder. Ask for the support.

I think, for me, personally, being elevated to the board has been absolutely critical because at that point it was a big statement that the firm made that, "You know what? Technology is so important that I'm going to put that person at that level."

Sometimes, I still see CIOs that are buried within a corporate structure too deep. They don't have access. They're not given the opportunity to be assertive.

Lots of business organizations think, "Okay, yeah, they're the IT guys." It's not the IT guys anymore. Technology is as important as labor and as important as capital. If you don't do it right, that to me is the biggest thing that we need to do. Be bold, assertive, make sure, again, the business understands how important this is.

Michael Krigsman: I love that. If you're a CIO, be bold, be assertive, take the bull by the horns – as they say. What a quick conversation. A huge thank you to Nicola Morini Bianzino. He is the global CTO at EY. Nicola, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Thank you for having me, Michael.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially the people who asked such great questions. Before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, hit the subscribe button at the top of our website, and we will send you our excellent newsletter so you know what shows we have coming up. Check out CXOTalk.com and we'll see you next time. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day. Bye-bye.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The work of the CIO has always been very strategic for every enterprise. We shifted 350,000 people from 85% of the people being in the office on a Friday to having everyone work from home on Monday morning. That wouldn't be possible without a significant technology infrastructure investment.

About EY and Nicola Morini Bianzino

Michael Krigsman: We're discussing technology investment planning for 2022 with Nicola Morini Bianzino. He is the global chief technology officer at EY.

You were a professional basketball player before you became the CTO of this huge company.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yeah, I was. I was. It feels like in another life now, right?

I spent 15 years of my life playing in the professional basketball league in Europe. From there, I started my consulting career and then my last job, this one, as the CTO of EY. Very different but also similar in some respects.

Michael Krigsman: People talk about our modern work life as going through different phases of their career but going from being a professional athlete to being a global CTO, that's a real shift.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: I had to make a little bit of a jump, right? Was I equipped perfectly when I started my consulting career? Probably not, but I think sports is kind of a microcosm of life in general.

I know it sounds a little bit cliché, but there are lots of similarities in the way you approach a sports performance and what you need to do, for example, corporate strategy, how you interact, teamwork, the fact that you're trying to be an organization that strives for a vision and ambition, which in sports is like winning a game or winning a season. In the corporate life, maybe it's to achieve some specific performance target.

There are similarities. There are, of course, things that are different. I don't need to take care, fortunately, of my body the same way I had to do when I was playing basketball, but the competition is out there no matter where you are in the world. And so, I think that was a great school for me.

Michael Krigsman: You're in a very competitive environment now in enterprise technology. To start, give us a sense of your role as global CTO, what do you do, and just a little bit of context about EY.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: EY, as you said, we're about a $40 billion company. Our employee count changes on a daily basis, actually, but we're about 350,000 people. We operate in almost 200 countries, so a very, very large corporation.

We have four main businesses.

  • Tax is one, so tax consulting, and also we do a lot of tax prep work for our clients.
  • Assurance audit is our largest business.
  • Then we have a very strong consulting practice that has effectively three divisions. One is specific on business. The other one is on technology, and the third one is on strategy.
  • Finally—I think is part of still the consulting organization—we are in a business called transaction, which is focused on M&A, so a very, very large portfolio of businesses across a complex environment globally.

What is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) job description?

Michael Krigsman: Of course, EY is a professional services organization. In your role as a global chief technology officer, what does that encompass?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The way we have organized technology at EY, effectively we had divided into two areas which, when that decision was made, I think it was very forward-looking.

We have an organization under my colleague Steve George, the CIO, that is specialized in the operations of the enablement technologies that we use in the firm. For example, our ERP implementations internally, our billing systems, everything to do with productivity suite, networks in the offices, and so on.

Then I represent another part of the business, which is connected to the growth. I'm responsible for all the technology that generates revenue for the firm. My job is to work with our business organizations to build technologies that they need to deliver the services, which is very interesting because I think it shows that the future of technology in our organization is made of these two different dimensions, the dimension that is focused on operations and another one that is focused on growth.

The other interesting thing, I think, for my role is that I sit on the board of the firm, which was a very important statement that our CEO Carmine Di Sibio wanted to pass to the markets, but also internally, the fact that technology is so important that we have a representative for technology sitting on the board at the same level as the leaders of the business organizations.

Michael Krigsman: Your part of technology is extremely strategic to the firm. Obviously, as evidenced by the fact that you sit on the board.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: That was the key message. I'm the first technologist, actually, that sits on the board of EY from the beginning of the firm. And so, that was, of course, not about me. It was about the message.

We believe that technology is a factor of production for us, and so the same way that labor and capital are. And so, that's why the message was that as we launch our strategy for the 2020s was to underline the importance of technology in that context.

How should IT approach technology investment planning?

Michael Krigsman: As you talk with your various clients across many different industries, many different company sizes, as you look across EY, how do you start to break down the thought process of planning for the investments that you make in technology or that we, as business people, should make, in general?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Of course, this is something that we have to deal with at EY a lot, right. I have to speak to a lot of clients all the time, and they always ask me the same question, "How should I look at investments?"

Honestly, I don't think I have figured it out completely. [Laughter] But there are some things, I think, that we need to take into account as that thought process gets executed.

The first one is that we always say that, but I think it's more true now than it was probably five or ten years ago. We live in a macroeconomic environment that is complex, super dynamic. The pandemic is one element, but there are also a lot of other things in the way.

If you think about, for example, even ten years ago, right after the financial crisis, the markets experienced, I guess, a starvation of the demand for goods and services. Now, the problem is the supply of goods and services.

We live in a constantly evolving economic environment, and so being able (these days) to use a traditional approach to budgeting, which is usually based on the fact that IT is considered a function within an enterprise on a 12-month lifecycle, yearly lifecycle, it's not sufficient anymore.

The market moves fast. The macroeconomic framework throws unexpected things at us every day. Inflation is rising, supply chain problems, and so on. We need, I think, all of us, to think about how we deal with that level of complexity.

When I talk to a lot of my colleagues, they all say, "I don't have the flexibility anymore to be able to plan for an investment that is two, three years down in the future, so I have to do it almost on a quarterly basis. Even on that quarterly basis, I have to be able to adjust and constantly evolve the direction with the business."

The need for speed dynamism, I think, is calling for a different approach than the traditional approach to the budgetary IT function.

Michael Krigsman: Which, of course, then begs the question, what is that approach?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: What we have done is that we've been disciplined in terms of establishing the dichotomy in the sense that, of course, there are lots of operational costs that we have to deal with every year. Those don't change that much year after year, but we manage to set them in a place where we can control them, we can manage them, and most importantly we can forecast what the impact is going to be.

Then everything that is related to growth, we are treating it in a different way, meaning we're shifting from a mindset focused on the function of technology to the business of technology, which means that our investments are very much anchored on specific products that are embedded in our service offerings. That means that we are creating pro forma P&Ls for each one of the products that then will tell us if the product is driving those benefits it is supposed to drive.

We went from a mechanism where we were allocating – effectively, giving a check – to all the business functions to do their own technology development to forcing the business functions to adopt a product-centric approach. In other to get the funding, they had to show that there is a product that they want to build. The product has to be compatible with our technology platform. And that product has to have its own business case and lifecycle (like any other product). If the product is not driving those benefits that it's supposed to drive, we're going to terminate it.

I don't think it's a particularly genius approach or radically different, but it's an approach that requires a lot of discipline. But when you get that discipline in place, I think the benefits are really great.

How to create alignment between technology investments and business outcomes?

Michael Krigsman: Well, it seems like this approach would force an alignment between the technology and the desired outcomes. We all know the history of large, failed IT projects where, in too many cases, IT says, "Oh, we did this great project. It was on time, it was within budget, and a win to the business." You said, "IT did this thing. I don't even know what it is or why they did it."

Nicola Morini Bianzino: I have always had that kind of a little bit of a problem with this concept of the digital transformation. Not that we don't need the digital transformation. Of course, every organization needs to become digital, so that goes without saying. But the way sometimes these initiatives are managed, first of all, are open-ended and they're very much focused on, I think, to find a good technology, a cool technology that we want to adopt but without really linking it with that level of discipline to a business outcome.

If you think about our services, especially our jobs are very much judgment-based across all of what we do, and they require a lot of data analysis. They require a lot of intelligence and expertise. And so, if we don't use technology properly to deliver those services, we're going to be at a disadvantage.

But that kind of an understanding and awareness on the business side, that link has to be in place in order to be able to fund and develop products. I think is something that not always is present.

Michael Krigsman: As you work across multiple clients and you see patterns and trends across the industry, do you see a growing recognition or awareness that this link must be there?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Absolutely. I see it, for example, as one of the most sought-after skill sets in the technology marketplace, funny enough, these days. There are effectively two, I think.

One is cloud architecture. Cloud architecture is a hot commodity in the marketplace.

But the other one can be surprising. But if you think about it, it's understandable, is product managers. A good product manager is critical, and so it shows that there is more and more understanding and demand in the market for this type of skill set.

Then everyone in the market, as well, talks about platforms. No matter what business you are in, having a platform strategy is key.

These types of discussions were very common years ago, of course, in the technology companies, but I'm starting to see that shift also in other sectors.

What is the Chief Information Officer role and CIO responsibilities?

Michael Krigsman: Let's talk about the CIO role. Many of the folks who watch CXOTalk are involved with IT. You've kind of laid out a general set of priorities and approaches but, as a practical matter, how does this impact the work of the chief information officer?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The work of the CIO has always been very strategic for every enterprise. It's very important. Sometimes there is not that full acknowledgment, but we all know. Especially for us, we are in the position (for enterprise) how important it is that the IT systems are working as expected, especially if you think about the pandemic.

For us, we shifted 350,000 people from 85% of the people being in the office on a Friday to having everyone work from home on Monday morning. That wouldn't be possible without a significant technology infrastructure investment.

But unfortunately, what happens in some companies is that there is still the kind of push of, "Oh, yeah, but that's IT. It's a function," like talent. It could be procurement and others.

There is that kind of an assumption that it's a function. It needs to be funded as a function. I need, in that position, as a CIO, more an administrator of outsourcing contracts than a partner of the business.

To me, that is what is the challenge moving forward is that we need to evolve and our role of CIOs and CTOs in the enterprise to become more and more partners of the business. That requires, in some cases, a different skillset or an evolution of ourselves towards that direction. But that's what effectively the business needs. Much less they need the operator.

I think the operations, it's important, but in a cloud world, I think those things are going to become a little bit easier for us. Should take less time. And so, we need to focus more on that kind of support and partnership with the business.

Michael Krigsman: When you talk about the need for the CIO to be closely aligned with the business, it seems like such an obvious kind of statement.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yes.

Michael Krigsman: What are the obstacles, the impediments, or the challenges that interfere with that happening?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: A couple of things. If you think even about the title, the chief information officer, it's a title that shows how do you use information in a way that is strategic within the enterprise.

This is happening at times. Sometimes it's not happening because I think we get bogged down a lot by the operational issues. Most of the CIOs that I know and work with, they all have struggled with the same problem.

It's all good and great. I want to be a partner of the business. I want to work with the business to change and to evolve this enterprise but, at the same time, you know what? I have lots of tickets that I need to address for my ERP systems or my network and security and so on.

We get dragged down into that endless cycle of operations that subtracts time from our ability to be dedicated to more strategic topics. That's why we have split the function.

I don't deal a lot, fortunately, [laughter] with operational issues. Steve does it with me. But that frees up my time. There has to be that acknowledgment that if you really want technology to be evolving as one of the drivers for growth, we need to give the opportunity to CIOs and CTOs to really work in that space versus being dragged down by that.

What is the impact of technical debt on innovation?

Michael Krigsman: I suppose also when there's an overabundance of technical debt that has to be recovered, that takes time, energy, and resources away from innovation as well.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Exactly, so that's another issue. I've seen organizations where up to 85% to 90% of the budget of the year is consumed by technical debt. This is a self-reinforcing issue because, every year, it becomes worse.

What we have done, I can tell you what we have done internally. I don't know if it's the right answer, but it worked for us.

I went to the board. I said, "If we continue with the growth of our technology," which is a great thing, "we'll end up having to use all our budget to pay for cloud consumption, and so we will not have the resources to dedicate to the build of new technology."

The board decided, "You know what? We're going to change the way we budget for variable consumption of technology resources." Instead of being funded through the yearly budget, it gets distributed and allocated based on consumption. And so, it becomes a variable cost, but at least we don't have a disincentive to the adoption of technology because we cannot afford to pay for the consumption cost.

I think this is a problem. It's common to a lot of organizations. But I think the cloud can help because it helps to variabilize a fixed cost.

If you had to manage a data center, you don't really have a lot of options. Of course, you can pro-rata the cost across different indicatives, but it's much more difficult. With cloud billing and economic models, I think that becomes much easier. We are in a situation where most of it is variable, so it depends on the level of adoption of the technology itself.

What is the relationship between CIO and CTO?

Michael Krigsman: We have a great question coming in now from Wayne Anderson. He says that the CIO role has been changing so rapidly over the last four or five years. How does this evolution change the nature of the relationship between the CIO and the CTO to position the CIO for success in 2022 going forward?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: We talked about the CIO, but if you look at the role of the CTO, I think there are major changes there as well. Traditionally, at least in my experience, the CTO has been always like sort of a chief architect of an enterprise for technology.

The CTO was the one to decide which kind of technology we should use, not use, and so on. A lot of the time that was available was invested actually in software selection or other types of activities specifically targeted on architecture-related topics.

I think, with the emergence of the cloud, what happens is that – at least this is what we do at EY – almost by default, we revert to the particular technology component that is available to the main cloud that we have adopted. It doesn't mean that we are a single cloud. No, we are multi-cloud and hybrid cloud at the same time. But if we are on one of the main clouds, by default, if we had to do some AI work, we tend to use that tool. If we need to do data work, we tend to use the tool that that particular provider offers.

That, I think, actually streamlines a lot of the software selection process. There is way less work that needs to be done in terms of technology strategy in detail.

The role of the CTO becomes more of almost (I want to say) an internal consultant for technology. And so, it's more about the vision and where we want to go versus should I use product A or product B. That decision is kind of made already by the cloud provider or the cloud stack. I don't want to use this like a blanket statement, but it's that.

If you think about that evolution of the CTO role, maybe you need also different types of people in that position as well, people that are more kind of truly at the intersection of the business and technology.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from LinkedIn that touches this precisely. This is from Anshuman Das, who says, "Aside from hiring new talent, what is your advice regarding closing the talent and skill gaps with existing practitioners in a technology organization?"

Nicola Morini Bianzino: What we had done internally, it worked for us. Again, it depends on the specific situation.

One thing that I noticed (when I came over in the role) is that we had a cultural gap. We had a lot of people that were really good at doing very specific tasks, and they can operate very well.

We were incentivizing them based on operational metrics. Can we meet the SLAs? Yes or no. If we can, great job. If we cannot, we need to do something about it.

The world, I think, in the future would be different. We focused a lot on giving people an opportunity.

The other thing that happened was happening before this. We had a lot of specialists, so we had DDAs, we had system engineers, and so on.

What I noticed is that people want to learn and want to grow in their careers, so what we did is that we offered two things.

One was a tech MBA. We gave the opportunity to all the technology people. We had a collaboration with academic institutions to learn more about the business. We've been focusing on getting technology people to move on the business side, as well as giving them the opportunity to learn more about the business.

The second dimension is that we came in and, using the same approach that we had took for our consulting organization, created a technology career path that was much more defined. People felt that, yes, they were great at doing what they were doing, but also they had the opportunity to grow. That empowered them (with tools, capabilities, and so on) to actually grow.

Of course, not everyone can make the leap. Unfortunately, that is the reality of things. We had very little attrition. Even these days when technology talent is in dire need for everyone, our attrition rates are really, really low compared to the industry average. I think we're doing something good about that.

Michael Krigsman: Another question from Arsalan Khan is asking about the role of enterprise architecture in all this.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yes.

Michael Krigsman: I have to say, I love the questions that come in from Twitter and LinkedIn. We jump around a little bit, but the questions are great. I encourage everybody watching; just keep going.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: When the decision of going with one cloud stack has been made as a primary one, the role of enterprise architecture changes. It's not anymore again to choose which API management layer should I use versus what AI tool should I use because it comes kind of with the package of the cloud stack.

The role of the enterprise architecture, in my mind, is more about the creation of those templates, methods, and tools that are specific to the enterprise. It's less about "let me choose the tool." It's more about taking the tool that is available and making it relevant and applicable to our own environment.

For example, we have an enterprise architecture function, of course, at EY. They're very much focused on developing the service architecture, the standards, and the developer experience because we use a lot of third parties, actually, to help us do the work, and so we want to make sure that whatever we develop, we develop according to those standards.

There's been a little bit interesting, a little bit the opposite of what happened for some of the other functions. Much more inward-focused and really very much directed towards the establishment of the standards and best practices around development as we use tools that are available through the cloud stacks.

Michael Krigsman: We have yet another question coming in from Twitter. This is again from Arsalan. The impact of technology on changing the roles – we were just talking about the roles that people play – how will technology affect that?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Yeah, automation, depending on how we define automation. Without getting into too much of that philosophical debate, I think, in general, even if you think about probably advanced AI, which is not quite there yet but it's getting there, I don't think our job will be affected that much. The tasks that we perform within our jobs are going to be affected a lot.

I'm a believer of the centaur model where you have technology plus the human together. I don't think that technology will ever replace the human.

If I look at our business, I don't see a future where we have robots doing audits or robots giving advice to clients. That's not going to happen.

However, if you don't use technology to improve your judgment, then, of course, you're going to be very quickly nonrelevant in an economic system. If you are a consultant in the supply chain, for example, and you don't use a decent analysis of the marketplace or flows of trade and all of those kinds of things, you're not going to give the right type of advice.

I think it's really about combining the human and the machine. And so, we will do different things in the future, but our jobs will still be there – 100%.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question on exactly this topic from Twitter. Again, this is from Wayne Anderson. Wayne Anderson and Arsalan Khan are on a roll. They're really into it. Wayne wants to know how are global skills going to need to change as we move forward, and what should folks do today to break out of this ops view (the operations view) in order to plan for the future and to contribute in more innovative ways to the organization?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The global initiative is a challenge. I'm not saying anything earth-shattering at this point, but we truly live in a global world and there is no alternative to global teams.

If I look at the pandemic, I sit in Silicon Valley or I sit in Switzerland, it doesn't really matter, right? I'm still working with the same team.

One thing that is sometimes missing is the ability, the cultural empathy. To me, in order to create the global team, it's less about the skills, the hard skills for technology. It's more about the ability for people to be empathetic and reward diversity, understand cultural backgrounds so that we can be more effective.

Still, I think it's a little bit of a barrier to create efficient, global teams. The ability of understanding that whatever I say or I think, as I perform my duties in the United States, it might be read in a different way in Europe or in Asia. That is still something that I think requires from all of us to get more empathetic about that.

Then in terms of the operation, it's really complicated. One of the things that we had done is that it took quite a few months to do it, but we went to the zero budgeting type of an approach as well, first. Then we went to the zero budgeting plus product approach, product-centric approach.

I think it happens to every enterprise. It requires a lot of support from the top. The farther you go in, you had to justify again why you need to pay for this particular technology.

Usually, the answer is that people say that because it's sunk cost, right? "I spent, in these accounts, for the last ten years. Why do you want to stop now?"

But it's almost a band-aid, right? At some point, we need to rip it off.

I know it's easy to say, very difficult to do, but it's inevitable. I think zero-based budgeting, for us, has been helping quite a bit.

Michael Krigsman: It's very interesting to hear you talk about technology as being a sunk cost in that way because that's kind of the nice corporate way of saying, "You know, we've always done it this way, and we're always going to do it this way because we've always done it this way."

Nicola Morini Bianzino: We discover things like, for example, we were paying for supporting applications that had 2 users – 2 users in our context is nothing with 350,000 people – or maybe one client.

Sometimes, it was easier for us to go to the client and say, "You know what? We had discontinued this application, but we have a new one that replaces it. It's time to move on."

I know it's not that easy. It's one of the most difficult things that can be done in our jobs. But the starting point is always that kind of strong support from the business and then making them understand that if we do that, then there will be more money for the growth initiatives.

Michael Krigsman: Chris Peterson asks, "With the shifting focus and business model of the CTO organization and the CIO organization, how does EY handle the flow of new products from one to the other as they become operational?" In other words, the practical handoffs, how you work with the CIO organization.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: First of all, we try not to have any duplication. We went through an extensive analysis of making sure that, for example, when we do a help desk, there is only one help desk. It's managed in a consistent way, so we try not to replicate that. Second, we tend to keep, again, the revenue-generating technology separate from the enablement technology.

There are touchpoints that happen. For example, if you think about our presence on the Web. It could be both. It's revenue-generating because it attracts customers. Or the CRM tool, for example. It's revenue-generating and, at the same time, enablement. When that happens, we jointly manage.

Actually, it happens less than what I thought (at the beginning) because we built an organization, the two organizations, as fit for purpose, so again, avoiding overlap.

Whenever we had this sense that, "Oh, maybe we're doing these things twice," like it happens when you manage, for example, workflow tools or things like that, we had to sit down and be very clear.

We like to manage in a very disciplined way and say, "No. If this fits this particular criteria, it's with you. If not, it's with me."

Then on top of it, we create an organization – we borrowed the concept from technology companies, so it's nothing new – called Customer Success that effectively acts as sort of a broker or triage mechanism. Whenever a demand comes in, the rest of the business sees it as a technology request that's going to the technology organization. But then, behind the scenes, we triage it and send it to the appropriate team. There is a one-stop shop for technology at EY. Actually, behind it, we created teams to have different characteristics because the work is different.

Role of CIO and CTO in achieving ESG goals?

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from LinkedIn. Again, this is from Anshuman Das. I'm getting this question a lot from people, in general, recently. That is, can you share the role of the CIO and CTO in achieving ESG goals?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: First, we started thinking about the ESG as actually different, and so we had to create the sort of bolt-on that was specialized in ESG. Then, very quickly, we realized that actually if we are serious about ESG, it has to be everywhere.

What we had done is that we have an organization, of course, that takes the leadership in terms of pushing the strategy and the vision that we have around ESG, but then, from a technology perspective, we have effectively equipped all our main programs and activities with an ESG dedicated person versus trying to do everything.

In some cases, I've seen it in the past where you have the chief digital officer that acts on top of everybody, which is difficult to make happen efficiently because usually, they don't have a portfolio. The other guys say, "Why are you intruding in my business?" and so on.

That bolt-on approach didn't really work out very well for us. We tried. That's why we're now reverting to an approach where whenever we build something or we launch something, one of the questions that we ask ourselves is to say, "What is the ESG implication?" from a conceptual perspective.

Are we there yet (across the board)? No, but I think we like this approach much better than the previous one.

Michael Krigsman: Essentially, you're trying to build in ESG awareness and action into what your to-dos are.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: The products versus having a team on the side screaming and saying, "Oh, you need to do more ESG." No, it's part of the way we want to develop and deploy products. It has to be aware of that with those thematics as well.

Michael Krigsman: I suppose when you have an issue that you believe is strategic, then that's the right way to do it, as opposed to saying, "Well, let's have a bunch of ESG activities." No, we're going to bake it into what we do.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: In my life, a lot of AI work, and when you think about six, seven years ago when there was this not picking up again of AI as the main topic, one of the things that was happening is that people started working on a lot of use cases. But these use cases were kind of disconnected from each other. They were not based on this kind of "we want to have AI everywhere."

This disconnect created a situation where the business value return was not that great. Some of these roadmaps looked like a lot of dots.

I'm a believer, for example, for AI and data (but also for ESG, these days) that those capabilities have to be embedded. They have to native into the products that we build versus bolt-on with a bunch of use cases around the enterprise.

Michael Krigsman: Yes, it makes perfect sense. We have another question from Twitter. Oftentimes, we hear advice to technologists about understanding the business, but what can we as technologists do to help business folks understand our domain?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: My best example was that I show up and the business guys say, "Oh, we need to be more agile," as an example.

I said, "Do you know what that means, though?" It's nice to say it, but it's not.

Basically, most of my business colleagues, they said that they wanted agile, but it was a unidirectional agile, so we want the technology people to be reactive and do whatever the business wants, of course, but as everything had to be delivered by a certain date with a certain scope and with a certain budget. It was a combination of agile and waterfall.

The people that were actually under pressure in this model were the technology people because the business said, "Oh, you had to be agile, so I can change the requirements at the last minute," as long as you deliver it by Monday anyway, right?

It wasn't really a fair deal, and so what I did is [laughter] I bought a bunch of books. I'm not going to say because I don't want to advertise the book, but it was a very nice book about product management that I very much enjoyed reading.

I gave it to all my leadership colleagues in the board and in other forums. Then I said, "You guys need to read about this because it's different."

Now, are we out of the woods? No, but at least I think they're starting to understand that there is another world out there, which is the world of technology. The world of technology works differently. When we deliver a piece of software, it's black or white. Is it working or not?

Sometimes, in the business, especially in a consulting organization, it's maybe more shades of gray. But when you think about that, in order to have that black and white outcome, you need a level of discipline and understanding of the challenges of each other.

Have we solved the problem? No, but at least there is a little bit of awareness. We spend time to try to educate the business organization. I think that is critical, by the way.

Advice for CIOs on technology investment planning?

Michael Krigsman: Given all these things that we've been discussing, what advice do you have for chief information officers at this time regarding technology and investment planning?

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Sometimes we need to be bolder with the business organization. Bolder means that the role that technology has to play these days, it's gigantic.

We had, in the '90s, the role of the CIO coming together. A big year of PC systems and all of that. But I think, these days, the way we consume technology is really unprecedented (without even having to go to the metaverse or these things that are a little bit down the road).

If you think about how do we interact with technology and what businesses need to do to be relevant, there is no business without technology. And so, be bolder. Ask for the support.

I think, for me, personally, being elevated to the board has been absolutely critical because at that point it was a big statement that the firm made that, "You know what? Technology is so important that I'm going to put that person at that level."

Sometimes, I still see CIOs that are buried within a corporate structure too deep. They don't have access. They're not given the opportunity to be assertive.

Lots of business organizations think, "Okay, yeah, they're the IT guys." It's not the IT guys anymore. Technology is as important as labor and as important as capital. If you don't do it right, that to me is the biggest thing that we need to do. Be bold, assertive, make sure, again, the business understands how important this is.

Michael Krigsman: I love that. If you're a CIO, be bold, be assertive, take the bull by the horns – as they say. What a quick conversation. A huge thank you to Nicola Morini Bianzino. He is the global CTO at EY. Nicola, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today.

Nicola Morini Bianzino: Thank you for having me, Michael.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially the people who asked such great questions. Before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, hit the subscribe button at the top of our website, and we will send you our excellent newsletter so you know what shows we have coming up. Check out CXOTalk.com and we'll see you next time. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day. Bye-bye.