CIOs Finally Getting Their Moment In The Spotlight


Howard Baldwin, Contributor

March 14, 2014

2014 will be remembered as the year when CIOs finally got a chance to start exerting influence and even power. In the couple of weeks alone, there have been discussions about CIOs rising to the board of directors and, even more important, taking the reins to lead companies through digital insight.

Forbes’ Peter High has written a couple of pieces on the idea of adding a CIO to the board, and will be offering more in the future. As he notes in his kickoff piece, “When one looks at the top trends and priorities for CEOs, often times, there is a significant technology component to bring them to life. One is often customer intimacy, as an example. This typically translates to customer or business analytics. This is a concept brought to life with creative use of technology, and the CIO must be integrally involved in the developing or buying of the solution, and to a greater degree, they are involved in the interpretation of the information that flows through it in order to generate insights for the company.”

First in High’s series is a Q&A with CIO Rob Carter – a man who has defied the averages of CIO tenure by reigning at FedEx for 13 years – about how to ascend to that position of power. He voices what’s starting to be a common thread in stories of CIO importance – a focus on serving both external customer as well as internal customers: “I am day-to-day integrated with the business and my business partners, but my focus, where I apply my time and energy, is in delivering technology for our customers and our business.”

But as IT recruiters Chris Patrick and Karena Man note in InformationWeek earlier this month, it’s not as easy as waving a magic wand. “Because technology is by far the most powerful driver of these new possibilities, CIOs find themselves thrust into a much brighter spotlight. More rides on their leadership abilities and decisions than ever before,” they write, adding, “Big questions arise. Can successful CIOs who rose to their positions by working under one set of assumptions move out of their comfort zones to embrace fundamentally different assumptions? Can they accept the fact that they must do very different things from those that got them where they are today?”

As Gartner analyst George Ambler puts it in Wanted: the money-making CIO, “CIOs have a huge opportunity to provide digital leadership and drive change. Yes, it takes courage, but who wants to be stuck shaving off another two percent of enterprise costs when you could lead the charge to redefine business?”

While the consulting firms especially are pushing this idea of digital disruption, as Deloitte CTO Bill Briggs did in my earlier CIO Next piece, CIOs note that it’s important to be in the right culture and circumstances to drive those changes. As former CIO and current IT consultant Roger Seshadri notes in my recent Computerworld article on digital disruption, one of the big obstacles to becoming digital is convincing others. “When a high-level operations executive doesn’t see a return on technology, it’s difficult to manage. IT has to do a lot of proof-of-concepts to provide evidence that technology has value.”

But one simple fact remains, and it’s actually old news. Years ago, when we talked about adopting technology to make business more efficient, the refrain was always, “If you don’t, your competition will.” If you as a CIO don’t start thinking about exerting your influence, aspiring to the board, and generally rewriting the rules of how your enterprise does business … your competition will.

Email CIO Next Community Manager Howard Baldwin if you’re a CIO who wants to spout off in an opinion piece on pushing your enterprise forward instead of being pushed.

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