How CIOs Stay Strategic - InformationWeek

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9/15/2008
02:46 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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How CIOs Stay Strategic

Manjit Singh, CIO of Chiquita, was at a meeting with fellow executives when the projector went out. Everyone looked to him to fix it. Singh's advice: If you want to be a strategic, global CIO, don't let your colleagues equate enterprise IT with personal tech. He let someone else fix the projector this time.

Manjit Singh, CIO of Chiquita, was at a meeting with fellow executives when the projector went out. Everyone looked to him to fix it. Singh's advice: If you want to be a strategic, global CIO, don't let your colleagues equate enterprise IT with personal tech. He let someone else fix the projector this time.Singh spoke at this week's InformationWeek 500 conference, which kicked off with a panel discussion on the global imperative facing CIOs. He was joined by Hewlett-Packard CIO Randy Mott and Toromont CIO Mike Cuddy.

One of the best discussion points in the panel was how a CIO keeps a focus on the strategic level, instead of fighting fires.

Singh said IT needs to defend its place as a domain expert, fighting the growing notion that any exec can do a CIO's job just because they use consumer technology. "If you let others drag you down to that level of conversation, it's very hard to be strategic," he said. The answer, though, isn't to talk about how complicated business technology is. It's to define IT objectives and projects -- and the IT problems and complaints that business units have -- in terms that businesses care about.

Mott said staying strategic and thinking globally comes down to having a good enough team. "It's not a CIO," he said. "You've got to have a team that's up to the task, and a lot of companies haven't invested in that."

Mott points to two areas where companies must invest in their IT people. One is getting technologists deep business experience early in their careers. He recalled early in his career at Wal-Mart, where he rose to become CIO, an executive imploring IT pros to be "retailers first, technologists second." His mantra is to recruit and develop people around a skill mix that's a third technology, a third business, and a third leadership.

The second piece is to get people thinking globally. At HP, any IT leader who runs a particular function runs it across the world. "When that happens, everyone gets up in the morning thinking globally, no matter where in the world they're waking up," he said.

The InformationWeek 500 conference runs through Tuesday; look for more blog posts from the event. Tonight, the top companies in the annual InformationWeek 500 ranking will be announced. The ranking also will be published on InformationWeek.com. An analysis of the InformationWeek 500 research is available as a free download. (Registration required.)

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