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Recognizing the Renaissance CIO

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 17, 2012  |  1 Comment

Last Friday I had the honor of speaking at the Fisher Center for the Management of Information Technology at the Haas School of Business located at UC – Berkley.  The event awarded the first Fisher – Hopper Prize for Lifetime Achievement in CIO Leadership.  It was a great event and marked a watershed in the development of the profession and position of CIO.   There were four finalists for the award, each representing what it means to be a world class CIO.   The finalists were in alphabetical order:

  • Thaddeus Arroyo (CIO, AT&T),
  • Dave Barnes (CIO, UPS),
  • Filippo Passerini (CIO, Procter & Gamble) and
  • Dave Smoley (SVP & CIO, Flextronics)

Each of the finalists has made substantial contributions to their companies and what it means to be a world class CIO.  The award went to Mr. Passerini for his achievements at Procter & Gamble.

That was the news, now for the analysis as the event was attended by a number of leading CIOs and IT executives.  I will not try to name them all, as I am sure to miss a few and do not want to offend.  A seminar on the Renaissance CIO and the future of the role was held prior to the awards dinner.  Featured speakers included:

Bob Johansen from the Institute for the Future who gave an informative, engaging and provoking talk on the Institute’s latest 10 year forecast with a specific look back at the 10 year forecast for the CIO conducted in 2001.

Graham Waller from Gartner moderated a panel discussion featuring: Thaddeus Arroyo, Charlie Feld, Dawn Lepore and Dave Smoley that concentrated on the theme of “Leading a CIO Renaissance.”

The session on Friday was unique, insightful and impactful.  Rather than discuss the changing role of the CIO, a topic of endless discussion and debate, the panelists and speakers looked ahead to the future and what it will require of every executive. Major points of discussion revolved around:

  • We live in an increasingly VUCA world, as Bob Johansen described it.  A VUCA world is one of increasing Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.  This world is already upon us and the Institute for the Future is forecasting that it will shape competition and our lives for the next 10 years.  The challenge as Bob sees it is to lead in ways that create a counter positional reality where organizations are led by Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility.  The leadership traits are highlighted in Bob’s latest book, “Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World.
  • The role of technology in the future of the enterprise, its products, services, operations and viability was a major point of discussion.  The focus was on TECHNOLOGY not IT, as we traditionally know it.  Broadening the discussion to technology was a subtle but powerful message and one that will shape the future of technology in the enterprise and require changing IT, as we know it.
  • The need for CIOs and every executive to get out of their comfort zone in order to grow their abilities and experiences to meet a growing set of challenges.  The CIO panelists each commented on their prior experiences as either “getting out of their comfort zone, doing the job no one else wanted to do, or being willing to break the rules.”  Each of these descriptions is insightful and illustrates the need to personally respond to changing dynamics. Dawn Lapore perhaps summed it up best when she commented that to be part of the future you need to have some management courage.
  • The future is no longer binary – no longer win or lose, one or zero, etc.  Technology and competition are becoming multi-dimensional, global, personal, information driven, device dependent, etc.  The complexity of technology and plethora of applications have led to world in which there are few clear paths and many dead ends.  Leading and thriving in that world requires a combination of visionary leadership open to different options on how they win.
  • IT has become too specialized, too compartmentalized for its own good.  This was a comment from a number of CIOs as they pointed out that the nature of applying technology to create business value in the future will involve a broader and more integrative view rather than the acute specialization that has grown up as systems become more complex, consumerized and compartmentalized.  The CIOs pointed out that specialization will continue, but how that specialization is assembled in an organization, for a product or project, and lead will be come a critical trait of the future Technology Leader.
  • CIOs have a friend in their legacy, if only they will leverage the legacy rather than be bound by it.  This was in interesting point raised by a number of CIOs as the legacy holds the existing information, the scale of the enterprise, the strength of the organization that is ‘below the waterline.”  Viewing legacy as a liability, according to these leaders, is a limited view.
  • Consumers, information and new technologies have transformed the future of commerce, competition and success.  This conclusion is drawn from a number of CIOs and Bob Johansen’s comments.  The future will amplify success and weaknesses as not only the pace of change increases but also the amplitude of that change rises.   “We are seeing the end of Cyberspace as we know it,” was the comment made by Johansen as he pointed out that the nature of technology and interactions is moving away from the keyboard and going online to being gestural, and where you have to consciously go ‘offline’ rather than log in.

These and other points discussed at the event illustrate that now is a terrific time to be in TECHNOLOGY as the opportunities for innovation, value creation and invention have never been greater.  It also means that the leadership challenges facing CIOs have never been tougher and the decisions more complex and risky.   That is the reality of a renaissance as established ideas and ideals morph in the face of changing technology, expectations, beliefs and relative values.

Readers of this blog will remember that a little while ago I pointed out that IT needs an Enlightenment rather than a Renaissance and I still believe that its true.  These leaders are not talking about a return or rebirth of old understanding in new forms, rather they are defining a new understanding of technology, society, business etc, based on new principles and strategies.  The comments above and those discussed at the event represent foundational thinking and experience for that new future.

My thanks to Jim Spitze and his team at the Fisher Center for a great event with dynamic speakers.  The idea of the Renaissance CIO was theirs and is featured in the Winter 2012 edition of California Management Review.

More to come in reflecting on the discussion, conversations and information exchanged as this singular event.  Welcome your feedback, comments and contributions on these or other points.

Category: leadership  management  re-imagine-it  strategy  technology  

Tags: cio-leadership  cio-strategy  it-leadership  leadership  strategy  symposium  technology-leadership  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Recognizing the Renaissance CIO

  1. Rene Hermes says:

    Thank you Mark for your reflections on the event. I do agree that CIOs, more than ever, have the power to transform their organizations. In many ways,

    in fact, CIOs are change managers, rather than administrators – they must be a real partner for the growth of the business. We outlined some of these ideas in a longer post, at; it would be great to hear your thoughts on this important topic.

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