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Top CIO challenges: Alignment, talent and lack of self-reflection

CIOs today don't have it easy as businesses become increasingly digitized. In this video interview from the recent SIM Boston Technology Leadership Summit, Mikhail Papovsky, CEO at management consulting firm Abraic Inc., discusses the top CIO challenges today. Papovsky also comments on the changing role of the CIO and offers some advice for new CIOs looking to connect with the executive board. (Hint: it involves wine.)

What do you think are today's top three CIO challenges?

Papovsky: I think that the top challenge is alignment, and you're going to see lots of sessions today that are dedicated to alignment of IT with the rest of the business, elevating IT's role within the business, getting IT to sit at the table [or] getting IT strategy to align with the overall business strategy. That is definitely on top of any CIOs mind. That's a subject that's been, I think, around forever, and there's lots of framework [and] lots of theories [on that.] People have had different experiences, yet it's still a fairly critical aspect for most people. From the attendance in various segments that I'm seeing, you see that it's a very highly attended event, so it's still on [the] top of people's minds.

I'm going to say that the second challenge for any CIO is really finding the right people. [The] IT organization is still, no matter how you look at it, a service organization [in which] you want your best [people]. You want to be a leader of other leaders. If you're a level five, you want level threes, level fours working with you, ultimately trickling down to people who work with vendors and customers. You're finding that leadership talent, finding those critically thinking people. Money aside, finding the right talent, I think, is critical.

The number three item is really the ability of CIOs to self-reflect. For a lot of CIOs, the position is a destination, and a lot of times, you feel like you've arrived and you want everyone else in your organization to continue getting better. You send them to classes, you send them to networking events, you help them become better. But, for a lot of folks, they stop self-reflecting, self-criticizing and trying to get better. That's [what I've found] in my career. The fact that there are a lot of folks here and they're networking and they're learning shows that a lot of folks actually are recognizing that fact. They're trying to learn from each other and they're trying to improve, so that's good.

How is the CIO role changing?

There are a few theories on this, and I definitely subscribe to the theory that the CIOs today are more of a broker. That's because, ultimately, the more technology there is, the more layers are introduced and any given CIO or any given technologist [therefore] gets that many more layers between themselves and the actual executables [and] the actual technology. So, [the] ability to broker deals and make things work -- mostly with people, and then those people enabling the technology -- is the skill of the new CIO.

Do you have any advice for a new CIO just starting out?

A lot of CIOs start thinking technology. I'm going to think alignment. If I were to start as a CIO right now, I would take everyone on the executive committee out to dinner and drink a bunch of wine with [them] and figure out what moves them and what drives them, figure out how we can be successful together. [It's] the human factor, coming back to the broker, coming back to learning and reflecting. 

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What do you think are the top CIO challenges this year?
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I agree with everything I read in the article.  From my perspective I find it difficult to understand how an IT organization can exist and not be aligned with the business.  I have always thought of IT as being a consultancy to the business (the service aspect of what he said is right on).  An IT organization that isn't in service to the rest of the business is just an exercise in spending money to no purpose. That's my opinion.
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