Three Reasons HP’s IT Chief Says The CIO Of The Future Is A ‘Broker,’ Not A ‘Builder’


Alex Konrad and Forbes staff

November 4, 2014

How companies use data–and need to protect it from outsiders–is changing faster than ever before. That means the role of the chief information officer needs to evolve, too. And no one feels that shift more acutely than a multi-billion corporation that’s splitting in two, like Hewlett-Packard is today.

Speaking at the Forbes CIO Summit in Naples, Fl. with Metis Strategy president Peter High, HP’s information chief John Hinshaw says that the role of the CIO will fundamentally change from maintenance to matchmaking. The reason for that shift, according to Hinshaw: data’s never been so important–and basic maintenance so cheap. Here’s what Hinshaw sees the chief information officer of the future will need to do.

Face the customer

Hinshaw himself is an example of the IT office moving mainstream. As CEO Meg Whitman’s first hire back in 2011, Hinshaw’s not so much a CIO as a “beyond CIO,” as summit co-host Peter High has called it in the past. Hinshaw’s role of executive vice president of technology and operations means that he works closely with Whitman overseeing multiple business units. Far from staying back with the servers, Hinshaw spends half his time outside the office visiting HP customers. That experience, Hinshaw says, has created a role in executive meetings as much about advocating for technical solutions that make sense for HP’s outside customers as it is about internally representing IT.

The CIO in the future, he argues, has to be an active face of the company with technical customers. That starts when something goes wrong, like customers expressing anxiety about a major new bug like Heartbleed. In that situation, Hinshaw says HP tries to ”open our doors as much as we can.” But, as Hinshaw told his fellow information executives at the summit, he believes the CIO must leave the office and tour newer companies once a month or a quarter.

“A startup today–and this might sound funny coming from HP–it doesn’t need any infrastructure to start up. It has a product out in a few weeks,” Hinshaw says. Meeting with them, he argues, is crucial. ”Change the frequency of the feedback you get.”

A broker, not a builder

HP and Hinshaw are also betting that the amount of time a CIO will spend maintaining internal systems in the future is about to drop. The expanding mix of companies offering a la carte solutions for data storage and management means that IT teams can outsource more of their critical data processes and spend more time on projects that work closely with the company’s business units. In that role, the CIO of the future could be more important for maintaining a high batting average in choosing and properly leveraging those relationships.

“I expect that few CIOs in the years from now will maintain their own data centers,” Hinshaw says. “The role will evolve more and more to be a thought leader and a data broker, not a builder and maintainer.”

To broker the data, CIOs have to make sure they’re available to explain it and suggest it around the company. Hinshaw’s a supporter of an open-floor model where any employee can come ask IT more speculative quesitons. “Is it a little distracting? Yeah. But the value is fantastic.”

A board member, too?

One theme at the Forbes CIO Summit has been the role of the chief information officer in the board room. Hinshaw, the former CIO of Boeing and Verizon Wireless, now has a line directly to Whitman at HP. But other speakers have also discussed how the CIO can interact with the boardroom and the C-suite. Randall Spratt from McKesson Corporation advocated clearly defining, budgeting, and then partnering with leaders of other units within a business to develop new products or tools. At Boston Scientific, Rich Adduci says that a veteran CIO can share IT battle scars with the board to prepare them for future consequences, but only if that CIO enjoys the full support of the chief executive officer to take that stance.

“A lot of CIOs want to be on boards,” says Hinshaw from HP. “Focus on delivering great results to the company, and the board takes care of itself.”

Management boards are getting tech savvier, which should make the conversation easier for the CIO. But Hinshaw’s advice for CIOs who feel disenfranchised or still undervalued by other management is simple: Force a change. “If you’re not getting respect from other groups, demonstrate initiative on the sideline,” he says.

The job changes with the data. Companies are feeling the pressure to use more data in ways that can drive new business and better understand their customers. For the CIO, that means a more complex and outward-facing job. And a lot more responsibility to match.

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