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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.

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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's Editor-in-Chief, overseeing daily online editorial operations. Prior to joining InformationWeek in May, 2011, she was managing editor at Her writing and editing work has won multiple ASBPE (American ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 10:49:53 AM
Re: More opportunities

I find IT people very adaptable; they have to be the way business technology changes.  The people that need to learn and adapt are executive management, boards of directors, and ownership NOT the CIO/IT Lead as business leadership have been the key obstructionists to effective business technology application to the business processes.

Li Tan
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 10:42:39 AM
More opportunities
I think for CIO, there will be more opporunities in the future. Now more and more industries start to adopt advanced technologies such as big-data, cloud, IoT, etc. to boost the productivity and revenue. So CIO has the chance to become a crucial stakeholder in the business instead of just the head of supporting department - the traditional IT. But it depends on how fast CIO can learn and adapt to this fast changing world.
User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 10:27:49 AM
Bottom up change is difficult
With the majority of lead IT positions still reporting to the CFO and not the CEO, it's not easy to be a change agent while being kept out of senior management decision making particularly when the CFO's goals are cost containment.   On average more than 70% of the information a business uses to run has no impact on the general ledger making even less sense for IT to report to the CFO as business technology has more cross functional impact on the business than does finance.

Put a bean counter in charge of other business functions such as Sales or Engineering and watch them struggle to be effective as many IT departments do in most organizations where IT reports to Finance although the Finance departments seem to function very well for some strange reason.
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