What are the qualities that define a progressive CIO? It was a question on the minds of people at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium yesterday in Cambridge, MA, and it turns out that progressive CIOs, to nobody's surprise I'm sure, are willing to take some chances and partner with business units on new digital-centered projects.
Traditionally, IT has been focused on racking and stacking and managing the company computer business, but increasingly that role is changing and the CIO role is changing with it. As Equinix CIO Brian Lillie told me, he wants to empower his employees to use the tools that let them do their jobs more effectively.
That doesn't mean he doesn't monitor what's going on across his systems, but it means, he has tools like SkyHigh Networks to give him visibility across his networks so he can see what tools his employees are using. Sometimes, he says, they discover great tools this way. Other times, they guide users to a safer alternative, but as he says, tools like SkyHigh Networks give him the information to take action when needed, but also allows him to be "CIO instead of CI-No." And as he asks, "Who wants to be that guy?."
Andriana Karaboutis, who is VP and Global CIO at Dell, put it even more bluntly when she spoke on a panel called Leading the Digital Enterprise, "Dell IT is not partnering in the business, it's in the business," she told the audience. In other words, IT has a seat at the table and that's going to be a characteristic of a successful CIO moving forward.
Lindsey Anderson, who is chairman of the MIT Sloan CIO symposium, spoke about some other characteristics in his opening remarks. He said that, successful, modern CIOs not only run their departments, but they have a significant role in driving some digital business initiative.
Anderson pointed out that the most successful CIOs each had that seat at the table. Karaboutis referred to and participated in strategy sessions around innovation at their companies. He also referred to a double solid line on the organizational chart where the CIO had the traditional IT role reporting to them, and they also had a line of business leader with a direct line to them as well.
That could increasingly be marketing moving forward as the marketing IT budgets increase dramatically, but it could be sales or operations or any other line of business.
Anderson said these CIOs had vision and went beyond the company's existing technology to tougher questions like: What if we started from a green field, a clean slate, what would we do?. As he said, "They used the green field to guide them to decide what [legacy] technology to keep and what to retire."
Finally, Anderson said that, the most successful CIOs were communicators, meaning they had the ability to sell their vision inside their organizations. Increasingly that means a multi-dimensional skill set that included business leader, technologist, marketers, and change agent.
Whether you are embedded in the business as Karaboutis put it, or finding ways to say to yes as Lillie did, the role is clearly shifting as IT's role changes. And increasingly that means shifting from what can't be done to what's possible. And that's a major shift.
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