Nearshore Americas

Q&A: Why the Enterprise CIO Has Recaptured Some Serious Swagger

Roughly ten years ago, there was a widely held belief that the authority wielded by the Chief Information Officer was starting to shrink. Much of this was a result of the ascendancy of the Chief Digital Officer, idealized at the time as a role that would cut across silos and drive digitization strategies well beyond the scope of most CIOs. 

What a difference a few years’ makes. Among C-suite executives, perhaps none has gained more influence in corporate boardrooms in recent years. The resurgence of the CIO has brought with it changes in the dynamics of the executive suite, as well as a shift in the responsibilities and powers of CIOs themselves. 

To address the issue, NSAM set up a conversation with Ryan Sylvester, CIO at WPAS Inc. Ryan touches on some of the current concerns of CIOs, as well as on the changes that he has perceived for the role since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From a more hands-on approach to talent recruitment, to the relationship with other executives and the management of remote teams, Ryan makes it clear that corporate boardrooms are changing, and CIOs are playing a major part in that change. 

NSAM: Have you noticed a growth in CIOs’ influence within boardrooms? If so, what are the driving forces behind it?

Ryan Sylvester: I have noticed a growth in boardroom influence. We have seen meaningful improvements to businesses through using smarter technology to drive improvements to EBITDA and increase operational efficiency. 

Ryan Sylvester, CIO at WPAS Inc.

Making appropriate investments in technology to not only drive revenue opportunity, but to improve the day to day lives of our employees is paramount. If we can find a way to empower our employees to do meaningful, challenging work, then we generally have seen eNPS [employee Net Promoter Scores] improvements, a happier workforce and organic improvements to our workforce. As a result of that, we tend to have higher customer satisfaction, which leads to greater revenue opportunities for us.

This all begins at the board level in providing me and my teams the support and trust we need to be innovative, calculated and make our mark in enabling the business.

NSAM: How have the responsibilities and workloads of CIOs changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ryan Sylvester: The greatest challenge we saw since the COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping my teams connected while being geographically dispersed. 

I have never been a fan of telling people to come to the office, telling people when to work, etc. I find it more valuable to have my employees tell me how they work most effectively and finding a way to enable that to happen. I feel that is my main responsibility: enabling my teams, while not being in an office, to be effective.

NSAM: Isn’t there a risk of workplace fragmentation when managing a geographically dispersed team? If so, what strategies or tools do you use to avoid fragmentation?

Ryan Sylvester: There is always a risk of that. We shifted into having daily standup meetings for our individual teams, and have an hour long meeting each week. For the larger meeting, we focus during the first half on a question of the week, where we take time to get to know each other, let loose a bit, not work. The second half of that meeting is spent doing status updates and such. 

We’re very heavy on our use of remote collaboration tools, which was a large shift for the organization, but we have reaped the benefits. We are very well connected. We are all generally aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives. It is turning into friendships rather than working-relationships. 

We are very well connected. We are all generally aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives. It is turning into friendships rather than working-relationships. 

This harkens back to ensuring we hire the right candidates to begin with, and going with a team-based approach for everything. I strongly believe that I am not here to tell the team what to do; I am here for them to tell me what they need from me to do their jobs best.

NSAM: How has the relationship of CIOs with other C-suite executives changed since COVID?

Ryan Sylvester: My relationship with my peers has morphed into a more team based approach to tackling issues. We all had to wear a lot of hats in the midst of the pandemic; rolling up our sleeves to just make sure work got done regardless of what department it came under. 

This caused us to shift into a more team-based approach to resolving all issues. While I respect the boundaries in unnecessarily overstepping my bounds, it is imperative that we all work collaboratively to grow our business and ensure our colleagues are getting the support they need to be effective. It would not be uncommon to find me on long Teams meetings with my peers just to catch up, as the water-cooler talks are not possible in a post-COVID world.

This has helped us shift from the tactical “I need this from you” conversations to focusing on the “How are you?” conversations that were ever so rare during the midst of a zoom-meeting world.

NSAM: Talent availability has become a prime issue for tech. How involved are you in the recruitment processes for tech-related jobs? Are you more involved than before?

Ryan Sylvester: I am extremely involved in the process of recruitment for my teams, more so than ever. 

The culture we are building at my organization is special to all of us, and choosing the right candidates is more important than ever before. 

While I respect the boundaries in unnecessarily overstepping my bounds, it is imperative that we all work collaboratively to grow our business

I take a servant-leadership approach to hiring candidates. I generally spend time each week to source candidates myself on LinkedIn, then I pass them off to my technical teams who do the actual technical interviews. My team has full veto authority over my hiring suggestions, and I ask for unanimous decision making when hiring for my teams. Having that buy-in and team-based hiring approach has led to us having fantastic candidates and my teams also having some skin in the game.

As a final step we pass on the candidates to my HR department for final screening and any additional questions. It has worked out very well for us so far!

NSAM: As a CIO, what are your major concerns for 2023?

Ryan Sylvester: My major concern has been and always will be trying to be able to make sure I am supporting my teams to the best of my ability. 

We live in a world with constant change and distraction, and it is all too easy to get sucked into our little worlds and forget the larger picture of why I am here at my organization. My purpose is to enable my teams to be effective partners with the business, to build something great together, to grow, to fail, to learn, to become better together. If I lose sight of the most critical aspect of my leadership, my support ability, I lose it all. 

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We must remain persistent in supporting our teams, our people. Without them, we don’t have a business. They are by far our most critical asset and they should be treated as such.

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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