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Emerging Traits of the Modern CIO

Cathy Southwick

Cathy Southwick

CIO at Pure Storage

Cathy Southwick, Pure Storage

The CIO role has changed so much over the last decade. The previous back-office role running corporate systems has now evolved into an essential and strategic business partnership. 

Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Cathy Southwick, CIO of Pure Storage to discuss the ways the conventional CIO has changed over the last decade.  

Cathy shares insight into: 

  • The most significant technology initiatives that are emerging 
  • Best ways to approach innovation 
  • How being a good listener leads to success  

Quartz Network: Can you provide some information about your background and current role with Pure Storage? 

Cathy Southwick: I’ve been at Pure Storage for about three years. I’m currently the CIO and I have the CISO responsibility for the company as well. I’m really excited to have been here to help us grow our business and scale. I spent 20 plus years in the service provider space. I worked for AT&T and was actually a large customer of Pure. I have a unique privilege and honor of being a customer of our product, as well as now being able to help our customers with where we want to go with their products, and how it makes a difference for them. 

Quartz Network: How has the conventional CIO role change over the last decade? 

Cathy Southwick: The role has dramatically changed in the last decade, and even the last five years. In prior years, CIOs were traditionally considered more back office, running corporate systems, and not really having a seat at the table.  

The big change, accelerated by the pandemic, is that the role of the CIO has really become an essential and strategic business partner with a seat at the CEOs table. Also sitting with their business partners and having to understand their business while also understanding how technology will enable and help them.  

So I really have found that the role has changed so dramatically. Instead of just being part of the enablement of technology, you’re now part of helping to set the stage of what technology can do for their business. How can tech really help to shape or change the way that they interact with their customers or operate within their teams to move themselves forward. 

Quartz Network: What do CIOs and tech leaders often overlook when they’re trying to accelerate this innovation? 

Cathy Southwick: The hard part that you have to balance is keeping the lights on and still doing the day-to-day work. You can’t let that go. At the same time, you’re really trying to figure out the key elements that you can use to catapult yourself or your business forward.  

So the pandemic showed us that it’s really easy to become either enamored with the, “I’m going to keep the lights on, so I’m going to keep my head in the sand,” so to speak, and be very focused on that. Or the flipside of getting kind of too far to the innovation side, where you’re so focused on innovation, that you’re letting go of some of the things that you need to have as foundational.  

One of the things I think that is hard for CIOs, is balancing those two, because you have to do both. And you have to be able to know when to pull back in one direction or the other to really be able to support what has to happen for your business. 

Quartz Network: Are there any procedures that can be put in place to help CIOs avoid this misstep? 

Cathy Southwick: The secret is being a good listener and hearing what’s happening around your business. Sometimes our business partners don’t necessarily see the impacts of what they might be doing to each other. 

I think the benefit of being in a CIO role is you’re often in this position where you get to see everything that’s happening around the business. Every business has different departments and organizations that are all trying to bring their capabilities forward, or meet a customer need, or enhance the products.  

CIOs do best is when they are good listeners, and when they then can also connect the dots because you do get to see all the different aspects of the business and what the priorities are or competing priorities or conflicting priorities. You’re able to raise those up. So having those strong relationships that you’ve built because you were you were good listener, is I think it’s something that really helps and kind of helps each of us to also just kind of reflect on what Should I be focused on or working on? 

Quartz Network: How has the changing CIO role impacted their ability as technology leaders implementing processes and technologies while supporting a digital transformation? 

Cathy Southwick: One of the most difficult parts is digital transformation. Every business has a different shape and form and sometimes the word gets overused. Sometimes it’s just good old fashioned, hard foundational work that has to be done like agreeing on a common data model or agreeing on a single source of truth so your businesses can communicate a different way. Communicating with data that goes between the business units, without having to pick up a phone and talk to someone.  

We’re seeing this big evolution and change with businesses, especially with remote and even hybrid workforces, because we’ve have people that have been going into the office for very critical, essential, hands on roles. We have to rethink how we want to communicate and what that looks like. That also means discovering what is needed within our technology landscape to be able to have seamless integration.  

That sounds super easy, but it’s really hard. And when, when all of your business partners might go off and pick their own technology to work from because it works best for them. Sometimes we have to take a step back and say, maybe the transformation is that we are able to level the playing field across business units so that we can have that common data. We can then start to work from that same single pane of glass so that we know what a customer’s needs are, what the products need, what are the issues we’re dealing with and hopefully be able to make those adjustments to meet those needs. 

Quartz Network: What exciting technology we should expect to see really grow in the coming years? 

Cathy Southwick: There’s some areas such as AI or ML that everyone talks about all time. But I’m very fascinated by this space of how do employees interact, and that the social side of how we do this. There’s some technology in that space that’s going to be very different with how collaborate and work in a digital workspace.  

I do think that what our service providers are going to do as far as technology enablement will change what we can do around distributing our capabilities closer to the edge on where we do work and how we do work. It’s going to look different. There’s a whole set of applications and use cases that haven’t existed yet that are really going to start to pop up. It will change things like how do we do logistics and how do we handle not just our flow of data, but also the physical, such as how we buy for our manufacturers and things like that. I think we’ll start to see this whole other area of technology investment that’s going to come into that space. 

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