What the expanding role of the CIO means to Lenovo’s Arthur Hu

Global PC manufacturer Lenovo has upward of 70,000 employees worldwide, delivering round-the-clock IT services, and Arthur Hu, the company’s SVP and global CIO—and as of April 2022, also the Services & Solutions Group CTO—is in a constant state of getting the most out of related teams, management and himself to cement partnerships, and achieve optimum performance.

Leveraging invention, creating new services, R&D and capabilities are integral to strengthening the business, and as his overlapping roles evolve, the underlining discipline for success is being resilient, based on long-term planning to build health, or, as Hu calls it, have “shock absorbers.” “It’s important to widen the aperture of the lens in which you look at the world,” he says.

In hindsight, the company’s response to the pandemic resulted in better architecture that allowed capacity to meet any eventuality. “It’s about how can you respond better and tolerate the unknowns,” he says. But there’s a balance to not just find, but constantly monitor, interpret and question what is in balance and why—it’s never a “set and forget” framework just because the height of the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. “One of the other broader business lessons coming out of it is understanding that sheer efficiency, or efficiency taken to an extreme, may not be good,” he says. “That means you are optimized, but with a very narrow focus.”

With Hu’s CTO role in particular, there is a distinct and broad focus on the dynamics of the external market.

“In the CTO role, I’m spending more time with our partners and customers because they are excellent providers of input and intelligence on what is happening and where things are likely headed,” he says. “I think the external to internal ratio of time spent is much higher on the CTO side because it’s a very business-leaning and business-oriented role.”

Foundry’s John Gallant recently spoke with Hu about adaptation into his various roles, and the methods involved to maximize potential without compromise. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On the reshaped CIO role: CIOs are now part of the shaping and evolving of future business models, whether it’s about how to extend the core business, or incubate and help think about what a future growth engine might be. CIOs also represent and advocate for user experience more. Because you have more online channels, and even offline channels—or traditional ways of interacting—they’re being augmented with technology intelligence. So the CIO naturally has data on all those services, products, or offerings that are being used, and understands what customers and users say about the company in the real world. Each of those things is valuable independently, but they’re even more powerful when put together. Another area is in participating around environmental, social, and governance (ESG). This is definitely farther afield than a more traditional tech-based role. But the amount of data required to formulate and execute thoughtful ESG initiatives is quite large. And, again, this makes the CIO a natural stakeholder and partner with the business teams as companies invest more in this space.

On priorities: For CIOs today, it starts with a recognition that the computing and IT environment is more complex than ever. It’s critical to find solutions that are simple as possible, and easy to use, scale, and adapt as circumstances change. What’s an important corollary to this is value capture. Digital transformation has been on the agenda for many years and companies have put their wallets where their mouths are, investing billions of dollars. So if you think about the journey, when we first started, a CIO could ask for time to show results. But as months turn into quarters and quarters turn into years, then you actually have to deliver otherwise you risk stranded investments and disenchantment from the business. So first recognize the obvious value of the technology you’ve invested in. At the same time, build resiliency against volatility and uncertainty. Then it’s about building enterprise agility. Not just agile software teams, but ways to help turn the company into one that can go quicker at speed. In my CIO role, I have to help the company build a new set of infrastructure processes, tools, and system. Our partners need to be along with us in the journey. As you go from there, the discussion naturally follows. If any IT or CIO team is saddled with, “Go make the SaaS happen,” I think that’s an indicator that the business is thinking the wrong way. It’s key to understand where the journey is, how cloud computing capabilities can help you accelerate, and then make sure it’s together with the business.

On blending roles: I started in the CTO role for the Solutions and Services Group (SSG) earlier this year. Stepping back, I think when I started in the CIO role, topics such as digital transformation and business agility were top of mind. And as time went on, as I was able to work with the team and deliver for the company, we were always looking at how to bring together the technology fluency with the business insight. It’s that duality where, as we thought about the future and our SSG, we needed more of that blend. So the additional CTO role is a natural extension of that. There are three things that form the theory of this case. As we were thinking about why this could make sense, one is that as CIO, I was already building capabilities. Second is delivering services. Third is how that creates business opportunities. On creating and building capabilities, I was already doing that for Lenovo. And the nature of those capabilities was to think about how we quote for our salespeople, make our partner portal frictionless, and make our supplier portal great for collaboration with our extended ecosystem of suppliers.

On self development: I went through an exercise of writing down my assumptions of what makes a good CIO and what I’ve learned as Lenovo’s CIO over the past five years. Then I explicitly tried to either validate or cross them out as I went along because I knew it’d be dangerous to assume I’m just picking up another IT team. That has helped me accelerate the learning journey by not making hidden assumptions. The CIO role is being a natural advocate for experience. In the CTO role, there’s a higher premium and requirement that we’re externally facing. I’m spending more time with our partners and customers because they are excellent providers of input and intelligence on what’s happening and where things are likely headed.

CIO, Cloud Management, IT Leadership, Roles