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CIO makeover: Nine questions you should ask

We're not talking about a Brooks Brothers suit. These are the types of skills the 21st century CIO needs in order to thrive.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- CIO David Cooper is considering going into sales.

Not traditional sales, but the kind of in-house salesmanship, cheerleading and information campaign that helps communicate IT's value throughout an entire organization.

Cooper, CIO at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., said one thing on his to-do list following last week's Pebble Beach conference, co-sponsored by CIO Decisions and, is "to talk about the benefits of IT. Everybody talks about the costs of IT and how it's too big. I think we [CIOs] have to be the person who sells it."

The expectations of CIOs are changing rapidly, said Mark Lutchen, a former CIO and partner with the IT effectiveness practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who presented a conference session titled "The DNA of the new CIO."

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So, how do you give a CIO a makeover? You do four things, Lutchen said. Report directly to the CEO; achieve better transparency; measure IT performance and business; and surround yourself with a great business team.

In the 1990s, a CIO's necessary skills were more than 75% technology focused, Lutchen said. The remaining skills split evenly between business, leadership and management, organization and culture, and fiscal management. Today, the scope of the job has changed, requiring CIOs of the 21st century to devote equal time and effort to all five subjects.

"The role is starting to move, has moved in some cases, to one that looks more like a general management role," said Lutchen, who wrote the 2004 book "Managing IT as a Business."

Nine questions every CIO must ask:

1. What should the role of CIO be?

2. How do I make sure our IT strategy is linked to the business strategy?

3. How do I improve IT's relationships with business units?

4. How should IT be organized to ensure that it drives profitability?

5. How do I understand what the "real" spend is on IT?

6. How should I measure IT's performance and its overall value to the business?

7. How do I leverage investment cycles and the power of standardization?

8. How do I improve communications within IT and between IT and the businesses?

9. How do I sustain the benefits achieved?

When a CIO acts as a business manager, it can create some gray areas, some attendees agreed.

"It's got to be in context," said Shawn Wilde, CIO for Trimble Navigation Ltd., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based manufacturer of global positioning systems devices. "Do you need all the skills of your boss? Absolutely not. That's why he's the boss."

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Lutchen offered a five-point plan to change a CIO's DNA. First, be honest about the skills you have -- and those you do not. Then, recognize that developing new executive skills happens over time, not at a point in time. A third suggestion is to seek out real opportunities to "walk in the shoes" of business unit leaders. Next, find personal mentors to coach you in your development needs. Finally, flatten your CIO team hierarchy and surround yourself with people who have specific skill sets in areas you may not.

Audience members questioned Lutchen about the best way for CIOs in smaller shops to handle so many different roles. He advised CIOs in that position to form closer partnerships with the executives in the areas where they need help, like HR or marketing, and to plainly ask for help.

James Siebers, CIO for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, which has about 20 IT staffers, said Lutchen's presentation prompted him to think about "how you fill all those different roles in the organization, how many do you fill yourself?"

Eventually, the CIO must see him or herself as "CEO of a business called IT," Lutchen said.

Lutchen left attendees with his definition of managing IT as a business: "Applying accepted business, fiscal, budgetary, organizational, marketing, management, investment and performance measurement disciplines within the broader IT environment of a company."

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