The CIO of the future

CIOs must continue to evolve as the importance of technology within businesses grows.

The CIO of the future is a planner rather than a programmer; a visionary rather than a mechanic; and most importantly, a well-rounded teammate rather than a solitary technical expert.

So says Joseph Rhyne, senior vice president of technology for The Thomson Corp., who addressed several dozen IT executives attending a conference titled "Reducing Risk, Restoring Trust: A Leadership Role for IT" last week in New York City.

The conference, hosted by the Robert Frances Group Inc., an IT executive advisory group, was a two-day seminar featuring 26 sessions on how IT leaders can manage risk and handle information security.

CIO functions must change to reflect business technology's evolution from a basic corporate utility to a contributor of business growth and efficiency, said Rhyne, who gave the opening keynote presentation. Despite lighthearted attempts at humor, Rhyne drew chuckles when he showed a slide of a single cat in front of a line of German shepherd dogs to illustrate the position of today's CIO. He said the CIO's changing role as technology grows in importance was serious business.

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"Bottom line: The CIO of yesterday is isolated and acts more or less alone," said Rhyne, who oversees technology for his company, which provides business information, news and management software. "The CIO of tomorrow should be a part of the executive management team."

CIO skill sets will also increasingly overlap with those of non-IT executives in order to keep pace with the growing role technology will play within businesses, Rhyne said. He said CIOs should focus on the skills they need, know what the CEO wants, governance of the system and set an example for staff. Of course, this theme of aligning IT with business is not new, and several attendees said they thought the CIO of tomorrow was already here.

Sharad Gupta, vice president of risk management for the Fidelity EBusiness group, believes Rhyne's description of the CIO of tomorrow has arrived today. The breadth of skills Rhyne described are already required for CIOs to perform well, Gupta said.

Jackie Roccasecca, assistant vice president for business architecture at New York Life Insurance Co., was surprised by how many different tasks CIOs must juggle. "I got the sense you're a jack of all trades and master of none," she said.

CIOs still should have their hands on the technology, but should emphasize value-added projects. As an example, Rhyne pointed to OnStar, which combines a global positioning system with a hands-free phone in some General Motors car models.

The OnStar example also played into two other themes Rhyne said CIOs must focus on -- taking a long view and focusing on what customers want. "If you have to pick one focus, think about the customer -- you and they will sleep better at night," he said.

A CIO who announces a six-month delay for a project the day before it was scheduled to go live probably knows he will upset the CEO, but may not think about the effect on the customer. Rhyne saw this happen in a previous job.

CIOs and CEOs should also share at least one aspect in common between their disparate jobs -- a long-term vision. This multi-year viewpoint provides a unique link between CIOs and CEOs, when compared to marketing and sales executives whose sales cycles usually last one year or less, Rhyne said.

Freely available technology also means most companies will not be able to succeed merely by purchasing a particular technology -- CIOs must leverage staff to win an advantage.

"It's what you do with it that matters," Rhyne said. "And that means people matter the most."

Rhyne had one last piece of advice for CIOs.

"Without a sense of humor, it's harder," he said.

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