The New CIO: C Stands For Change - InformationWeek

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10/2/2014
08:36 AM
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The New CIO: C Stands For Change

What does the CIO role look like now, and what will it look like in the future? Experts at Interop New York share the key skills and traits that will soon separate the winners from the losers.

IT execs love to recount an old-school joke: CIO stands for "career is over." That joke dates back to a different time, when CIOs mostly dreaded making a bad vendor choice or botching an ERP project. Today's business climate depends on speed and agility more than statesmanship -- and CIOs dread falling behind the current pace and being deemed irrelevant.

 "The C in CIO stands more for change than chief," said Jonathan Feldman, CIO of Asheville, N.C., at the InformationWeek IT Leadership Summit at Interop New York on Tuesday.

That's a useful way to start examining the future of the CIO role. The CIO must manage tremendous change coming in cloud and mobile technologies, data analysis, and BYOD -- and even bigger, more fundamental changes as companies' core business models change to a focus on digital interactions with customers and partners.

[Branding is for IT departments, too. Read 5 Steps To Build A Strong IT Brand.]

Ross Perot might call it a giant ripping sound, as companies all over the US rip up their old sales strategies and business processes and rewrite them for agile development teams and customer support teams that move at lightning speed.

What must the CIO navigating all that change bring along for the journey? For starters, the CIO must be a "master translator," says David Wright, CIO of McGraw-Hill Education, another speaker at the summit Tuesday. The CIO is the one who can fully speak the languages of the business and the technology experts, not only to get things done, but also to speak up when a real business concern looms, he says.

CIOs used to give a lot of orders. Get over it, Wright says: "It's not all about you."

PricewaterhouseCoopers chief technologist Chris Curran puts it another way: IT is becoming "consultative." PricewaterhouseCoopers data shows that between 35% and 50% of technology spend is happening outside of IT at top-performing companies, Curran says. Consult with these other business teams, or be deemed a laggard. Do technology demos often with these teams, he recommends, to build credibility, build awareness of what the IT team can do -- and build your team's business language skills. 

Wright goes as far as to teach his team not to say "IT and the business" but "IT and other parts of the business." His IT team works on every product launch as McGraw-Hill Education moves from a world built on paper textbooks to one based on software and online services for classrooms. The term "collaborative" doesn't do full justice to that kind of IT model; it's more like immersive.

Communication skills can trump pure tech skills for the future CIO. As Josh Oakhurst, chief strategy officer at Skookum Digital Works put it to the

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Laurianne McLaughlin currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Editor-in-Chief, overseeing daily online editorial operations. Prior to joining InformationWeek in May, 2011, she was managing editor at CIO.com. Her writing and editing work has won multiple ASBPE (American ... View Full Bio
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Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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10/15/2014 | 2:37:45 PM
Re: The New CIO
@zerox203 is right, some CIOs learned long ago to befriend the CMO. But if you're still playing a game of "Survivor" with the CMO, it's time to think again.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
10/15/2014 | 7:30:51 AM
Re: The New CIO
The funny thing is, depending on who you ask, all of this was true five, ten, or even more years ago. Maybe a lot of that has to do with what industry you're in. The idea that IT was tied to directly to business growth (rather than just keeping the lights on) was true for many companies back then - it's just that it's now true for more or less everyone. 'Digital' just means 'how you do business' - period. It's indistinquishable from other parts the business.

All of this can be said for the CIO themselves as well, of course. All it really means is that the CIO now fits into the same size compartment as the CMO or the CFO, so it's really not all that strange. It would be awful weird for someone to say 'we don't really need to bring marketing in on this company-wide project, do we?', wouldn't it? It's more strange that that ever was the case for IT, but you're right that old habits die hard. CIOs already in the hot seat have some unlearning to do, and those coming up should keep a close eye on them to learn from their missteps.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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10/6/2014 | 8:46:00 AM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
"Part of my position is being an agent of change": Thanks for sharing your insight, @SaneIT. Good way to put it.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
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10/6/2014 | 7:44:55 AM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
You're right that the reporting structure is a bit dated if the CIO or the top level of your IT staff is reporting to the CFO but I think that can be remedied by getting your CFO moving in a more technical direction as well.  I'm at a company that isn't quite big enough for that CIO role and yes I report to the CFO, but it is not the brick wall that I hear other people in similar positions are running in to.  The "consultative" shift is a good way to describe how you can get that relationship moving in the right direction.  The image of the tight fisted CFO who can't see company direction unless it's in ledger form is as outdated as any of the CIO role assumptions that many of us make.  Our CFO understands why I come in with proposed changes and very rarely do I hit a wall.  When I do it's usually a "wait" signal rather than a full stop.  Part of my position is being an agent of change, we are a growing company and we can't do business the same way we did last year or the year before.  If we want to keep up with the growth we have to change and if there is anyone in the company who should understand how quickly things can change and how those changes can affect business processes it should be the CIO or the person filling a similar role.  This means knowing what other people do and why.  I joke that I've shifted from a technical role to a process modeling role over the past year but really it is adjusting processes to mesh with technology changes that are letting us do bigger things.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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10/2/2014 | 6:10:47 PM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
It is old-school thinking to have the CIO report to the CFO. IT leaders fought this battle in the 90's. If your CIO reports to the CFO that could be a hint that you are not in a company with a digital business mindset doing innovative work. Of course this may vary by vertical industry.

As far as not having a CIO slot at all, it is true some smaller or even midsize companies will have an IT director or a VP-level title person running IT. I hope those people would also find useful advice in this article about how to stand out as an IT leader.

 

 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/2/2014 | 4:12:34 PM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
I see what you're saying -- a person may be doing a CIO's job, but without that title, they have little clout with other business units. That sounds like a situation with no easy or one-size answer.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 3:31:45 PM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
I understand this article is about the CIO role but the overwhelming majority of IT lead positions are not CIOs.  For those organizations having a CIO as part of the executive core reporting to the CEO, this article is a mute subject as they really already understand the change aspect of business technologies thus they have a CIO to mentor same.   For the rest of us its an up hill battle just to be let in the business door.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/2/2014 | 1:41:02 PM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
Good points by @ddurbin1. I've heard more and more about CIOs reporting to CFOs, which doesn't make a lot of sense if you really want the CIO to be immersed across business units as an agent of change. Reporting to a CFO would stifle a CIO, no?
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 12:05:26 PM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
Do you think CIO's are common?  Only in the Fortune 50 and not even all of them have one.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/2/2014 | 11:55:08 AM
Re: Bottom up change is difficult
Do you think it's common now for CIOs to report to the CFO? 
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