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The CIO job on steroids: The 'CIO-plus'

What is it about the CIO job that makes it so ripe for over-analysis? As long as I’ve been covering CIOs, there’s been hand-wringing over how to fill the job successfully. CIOs need to have a seat at the table to do well. They need to partner with the CFO, work hand-in-glove with the CMO, generate revenue, be product-centric, take on customer experience, present to the board, sit on a board. As if the job of providing bullet-proof IT systems and services to enterprises whose livelihood depends on them isn’t hard enough to figure out.

Recently I heard a new twist on the CIO job — the CIO-plus. The term came up casually in an interview about the upcoming MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. The chair of the annual event, Lindsey Anderson, was explaining the major theme of this year’s event — “leading the smarter enterprise” — when he used CIO-plus as shorthand for high-achieving CIO.

So, what exactly is a CIO-plus?

Lindsey Anderson

“CIOs that have both a technology role and a business role,” Anderson said. These CIO-pluses typically run an aspect of the business in addition to the CIO role. “Some CIOs have been responsible for the customer experience or the customer support function. Some of them are chief digital officers in addition to being chief information officers.”

Business-technology hybrid

MIT Sloan has seen the emergence of the CIO-plus professional among the finalists for its annual CIO Leadership Award, some of whom come to the top IT position from the business side.

“I would say about 25% to 30% of the finalists of the past several years transition into the CIO role from business, so they are very comfortable with the business aspects of the CIO and have developed the technology skills as well. The CIO-plus is a business-technology hybrid,” he said. But, he underscored, with this important notch on their CIO job resume: a business title.

“We’re actually talking about somebody who has a formal business role, in addition to their technology role. They could be a chief strategy officer, a customer support officer — whatever makes sense within their organizations.”

Origins of the term CIO-plus

After asking Anderson to give MIT’s view of the CIO-plus, I did a little Googling and discovered the term was new to me but hardly brand new. It was used by Forbes columnist Peter High in a 2012 article, “The Emergence of the CIO-Plus,” and, as Anderson noted, the term refers to CIOs who also have formal business roles and titles. Here are some of the attributes High calls out as typical of CIO-plus professionals.

  • They use the “structured, logical” methods deployed to tackle big IT problems to solve problems beyond IT.
  • They find ways to take costs out of the enterprise.
  • They have strong communication and relationship-building skills while maintaining “detail-oriented technology expertise.”
  • The use technology to drive business innovation and value.

The term made its debut even earlier in a 2009 book by MIT research scientist George Westerman and Gartner analyst Richard Hunter: “The Real Business of IT.”  Westerman and Hunter offer examples of CIOs who achieved multi-title status and advice on how to become a CIO-plus.

What’s next? The CIO++?

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