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At CyrusOne, a look at the expanding role of a CIO

Being head of IT isn't the gig it used to be, says Blake Hankins, CIO of data center provider CyrusOne, in this Q&A. Today, the job of CIO is about making partnerships -- and having business know-how.

You've heard it before -- the role of a CIO is changing in an era of fast-advancing digital technologies, smartphone-carrying consumers faced with a surfeit of choice and fierce, ever-adapting competition.

Blake Hankins, CIO of Dallas-based data center provider CyrusOne, described what that change looks like on the inside: "It's become more of a business partnership and about gaining a seat at the strategy table saying, 'How do we really look at the strategy of our business?'"

No longer is the role of a CIO solely about responding to requests for software updates or fixes to tech problems, he said. And no longer does it rely only on technical skills, though the old-school CIO still exists.

"I've seen it at organizations before, where the technical person is just doing technical development or infrastructure, but they don't understand the overall business," he said.

In a recent interview, Hankins gave his thoughts on the changing role of a CIO and shared the concerns that guide him as head of IT. Edited excerpts from that discussion follow.

What is your top priority as CIO of CyrusOne?

Blake HankinsBlake Hankins

Blake Hankins: My top priority would be meeting my internal needs and customers' needs for the business. Probably the biggest thing that I work on is information security and making sure that we are safe internally and our customers are provided with the best services that are secure and their data is going to be secure. And our internal network and infrastructure is secure. In the wake of Equifax and Target and all those other breaches, that is my No. 1 concern and what I work first at.

How has the role of a CIO changed over the years?

Hankins: It's become more of a business partnership and about gaining a seat at the strategy table saying, 'How do we really look at the strategy of our business?' and, 'Do we have the data and the reporting and analytics and the business processes and the systems that we need to execute the strategy?' Over the years, it's become a more integral business partner versus just a service provider -- 'I need a desktop from the CIO organization.'

What skills do you see as integral to the new role?

Hankins: It's understanding how the business works and how the company makes money. I've seen it at organizations before, where the technical person is just doing technical development or infrastructure, but they don't understand the overall business and what they're doing, how that fits into the overall business so the business can make money and have its mission accomplished. So, really expanding and understanding the 360-degree business approach to how I, in the IT world, fit into the overall world. I think that's key to success.

That goes back to understanding the strategy. Because a lot of times the technical person, when looking at a software or a process issue, if they understand what the businessperson is trying to get, then there's also a better solution that they can find. You'll have businesspeople say, 'I need this,' but the IT in you can come back and say, 'I understand what you need, and I see why you think you need this, but what about this other thing here?' Which is a much better idea because they have that technical and business background.

To learn about what's driving growth in the data center industry and Blake Hankins' take on multi-cloud management, read part one of this two-part Q&A.

This was last published in May 2018

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