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Tables turned: The language of business sounding more techie

A perennial scolding heard at conferences is that if IT leaders ever want to have a seat at the table — if CIOs hope to play a strategic role at their organizations, they need to learn to speak the language of business.

Well, guess what? That table is turning. Or at least, it was my fleeting impression yesterday at the annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium that the language of business seems to be morphing into the language of technology.

The theme of this year’s conference was how the role of the CIO will evolve in the digital business world. Now, as some readers of this blog might remember — and as repeat attendees of the MIT Sloan Symposium certainly know, the evolving CIO role was a major theme at last year’s symposium. The tagline, however, of this year’s event — Beyond the Crossroads — signaled that something was different. And something was, never more so than in the CEO panel that kicked off the day. The most striking aspect of the speakers was their tech savvy: Tech talk practically rolled off their tongues — and I’m not referring just to the word cloud, which came up often enough.

Take David Castellani, senior managing director and CEO at New York Life Retirement Plan Services. He wants to “destroy the desktop” and move “to dumb terminals, iPads and small phones.” For Eric Openshaw, vice chairman and U.S. technology, media and telecommunications leader at Deloitte LLP, social media is top of mind (nothing too surprising there); but Deloitte, he went on to explain, is struggling to get “the right platforms” for both internal use and for engaging with the external world. Data analytics also is critical for Deloitte; indeed, the firm’s $1.2 billion investment in that analytics now allows it to do things like predict a bank failure within 60 days of it happening. But the “great opportunity” for his and every other company, according to Openshaw? That lies in “mining unstructured data,” he said. I could give other examples.

Now, the organizers of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium might have gone out of their way to find tech-savvy CEOs and business people for their panels, but that would distinguish this symposium from last year’s. There, CEOs and CIOs alike voiced the same old CIO leadership issues in the same old words, such as speaking in the language of business, or the need for CIOs to align IT with business goals. Yesterday, CEOs at least sounded like they are indeed operating in a digital business world and have moved beyond the crossroads.

Email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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