An evening with some CIOs

By | August 15, 2013

table-shot-21-300x200Last night I had the privilege of having dinner with 9 Enterprise CIOs from UK PLCs or global companies with UK-based EHQs, each one a recognizable brand. Chatham House Rules prevailed so I cannot disclose much, but I thought I would share three very generic observations

1. No two CIOs are alike.

CIOs by and large do have technology backgrounds – but not always.  Some proudly wear their technology scars and want to debate the merits of different programming languages or networking protocols with you, whilst others would rather discuss the price of fish.  Some others freely state that they are business people first and technologists second. In reality some CIOs retain a CTO aspect to their roles whilst others have strong CTOs on staff and focus on business alignment. The point is, you cannot engage with a CIO on a generic basis.

In tech marketing we talk about ‘personas’ a lot. We want to understand what particular role an individual is playing in the buying cycle (influencer, researcher, decision maker and so on) and then target the right content at the right time to that individual: personalization and just-in-time delivery of relevant and outcome-based assets. At least that is the theory. In fact I covered some of this in a post a couple of years ago – see here.

So, given this variance in ‘being a CIO’ – we as vendors, really need to drive the personalization down to the level of the individual CIO or at least to clusters of interest or type.  And don’t assume that a CIO from a bank necessarily wants to hear about how another bank deployed a particular application or infrastructure unless it mirrors exactly what he or she is trying to achieve. It may be that a retailer or a media company has addressed the problem already and is more relevant as a reference.

2. How CIOs see themselves

The days of the CIO being the guardian of the IT assets and purely accountable for delivering the applications that the lines of business want have long gone. Today’s CIO is likely to be spending more time in the boardroom than the computer room. I didn’t research it but I would guess that a high proportion of the CIOs I met last night have serious academic business qualifications. These days a CIO needs to be armed with an MBA as well as the scars from implementing an enterprise-wide application or driving a fundamental business process reengineering project.

CIOs see themselves as transformers and “agents of change”. And there are plenty of case studies that bear out those monikers. If you are interested watch the videos of Sun Corp, Thomson Reuters or Revlon.

3. CIOs look for innovation everywhere

Somewhat related to the point above, CIOs have moved out of the support role to one of leading change. CIOs are hungry for innovation – they are continually seeking inflection points and looking to see how they bring value to their companies. And, they do not just look at their own industries for that innovation they are prepared to look broadly, and globally, in their quest to introduce discontinuous innovation. A Forbes article a couple of weeks ago beat me to the punch when it talked about the journey from “Chief Information Officer” to “Chief Innovation Officer”.  Maybe that is a bit of a stretch. Innovation isn’t only the preserve of IT, but in many high tech heavy industries like Finance and Banking, Healthcare, Media and so on, the investment in IT is so significant that any innovation that the CIO can bring may result in disproportionate benefit. I doubt any of the CIOs last night would be truly happy being called the Chief Innovation Officer but the importance of innovation to them cannot be underestimated.

For a good article on the distinctions between the CIO and the CTO check out this article from GovConExec, which does a good job at it.

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