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The skills and traits of a next-generation CIO

Dan Tynan | July 25, 2017
Shifting technology budgets, old IT habits, and new turf wars have many CIOs stuck in a corner. Here’s what it takes to stand out as a great, forward-thinking CIO.

CIOs need to be just as plugged into customers as CMOs are, says Lindberg, who has gone to great lengths to make that happen over her career. For example: papering the walls of the CIO's office with customer complaints, making them listen in on live support calls, and installing video screens that display downtime across every IT system they're responsible for.

"I'm kind of horrible like that," she jokes. "But you can do it in a friendlier way. It's really about asking. I tell them, 'Go talk to your CMO.' Most have enormous volumes of customer data and are more than willing to share."

A potential stumbling block, however, is that some organizations have developed a mythology about their customers that doesn't reflect reality, says Jake Sorofman, vice president and chief of research of the Gartner for Chief Marketing Executives group.

"Many organizations take for granted a level of knowledge [about customers] that simply doesn't exist, based on internal biases and anecdotal experiences," he says. "They see customers as they choose to see them or as they existed in the past, rather than developing a continuous source of customer insight."


Data is king

The fastest way for a CIO to get a finger on the pulse of a company's customers is by parsing the yottabytes of data that have been collected about them.

"It used to be data was just something we backed up on a 24-hour basis," says Julian Hicks, a 30-year IT veteran who's now CFO/CTO for tech recruiting firm Staff Smart. "Now data is king. From an IT perspective it's the most important thing out there. Companies want to know how to slice and dice that data to give them a competitive advantage."

But not all top tech execs have been willing to dive deep into data. The reluctance of some CIOs and even some CMOs to allow customer data to drive business decisions is a key driver behind the rise of the chief digital officer, says Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research.

"When we first looked at this a few years ago we found a lot of CEOs going out and hiring chief digital officers because they had either the wrong CMO or CIO and didn't want to replace them," he says. "It was easier to hire somebody with the title of CDO and say, 'You try and fix the problem.'"

While a new breed of CDOs has helped old-school companies like GE and McDonald's achieve dramatic digital turnarounds, savvy CIOs can take on this role by adding more data analysis know-how to their skillset.

"The growth of the CDO role, at least in part, reflects IT's failure to step up and take on one of technology's most important value-add functions," says Keith Collins, CIO for SAS, a $3.2 billion maker of analytics platforms. "The first thing I did as CIO was to participate in a week of analytics training with all our database administrators and business analysts."


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