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CIOs have a leading role to play, or lose

The job function of the CIO is changing as technology’s role in business is evolving, said several speakers at the Fusion 2012 CEO-CIO Symposium produced by WTN Media in Madison last week. The CIOs who can lead this transition can prosper; those who remain internally focused solely on efficiency and miss what more is required will be left behind.

Bruce Richardson, senior vice president and chief enterprise strategist at, noted that the time between technology disruptions is shrinking.

“In technology change, the ones who get hurt are in IT. For 30 years, IT has said no to change. Now with social [media], IT has a chance to lead in the participation, Richardson said.”

“IT has been focused on automating business processes, which is different from approaching the issues with a business mindset,” said Mark McDonald, group vice president and head of research at Gartner’s executive program. “Now technology has the opportunity to amplify the enterprise. Amplification is how you apply technology to an organization as opposed to applying it inside an organization.”

The amplifier, he added, extends the organization’s signal out into the marketplace. Two technologies facilitate this -- mobile and cloud.
McDonald, who delivered the closing Keynote Address at the Fusion 2012 Symposium, emphasized many of the same trends that Kay Plantes, principal of Plantes Company, made in her opening keynote, and in WTN articles and interviews ahead of the conference.

Taking a broad and historic view, Plantes said the recession is a distraction.

“We have moved to the information age. The old business of competition used to be differentiation on products; now it has shifted to differentiation on business models. Plantes said.”

The failures to understand this shift make headlines -- Kodak out of business, Sony out of TV, Motorola nearly out of cell phones until Google stepped up. Apple and Google, two companies that weren’t in the business at all seven years ago, now dominate the cell phone business.

In health care, United Health is buying clinics and Walmart is going into primary care.

“By staying in the same business and just being more efficient, you are dooming yourself.” She cited some shifts in business strategy -- from efficiency to agility, from effectiveness to design and from driving change to enabling change, Plantes added."

“Use new technology not to just think about efficiency but to provide unique benefits. Use it to enter new markets and create adaptable cultures.”

CIOs need to become more externally focused, she added, and more proactive. They need to come to the table with solutions. The CIO’s number one job is to be a member of the C-suite, she added, and the C suite members need to work collaboratively. Too often they think their job is running their individual silo efficiently.

“If you don’t want to make these changes, go work for IT vendors because that’s what they are about -- efficiency and scaling, Plantes said.”

These new visions generated a bit of pushback from CIOs in the audience. Some said the speakers over-rated the ability of the CIO to lead change in most companies.

Rick Davidson, CEO of the consultancy Cimphoni, a former Manpower SVP and Global CIO as well as co-chair of the symposium, said, CEOs have also questioned the CIO role.. One client had mused about hiring a new CIO to think strategically while his current CIO kept the infrastructure running. Davidson, added, It’s better to have a CTO in charge of plumbing and free up the CIO to spend much of his time looking ahead and beyond the company walls.

McDonald said, “CIOs could run existing operations and develop strategy. To argue that one person can’t do both is a cop-out.”

“Otherwise no CFO could become a CIO.” He suggested the CIO should think of himself as the enterprise capability officer and he should measure IT’s contribution to the value in business performance over time.

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