Top CIOs Predict the Five-Year Future of the CIO

Entrepreneur, futurist, global talent scout and master of business metrics. Those are some of the roles that CIOs will need to play in 2017 to be successful, according to today's award-winning CIOs.

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CIOs must also prepare for low-probability, high-impact events. An incident similar to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could happen to any company, Deasy says. "IT touched every aspect of the spill: how to stop the oil, recovery operations, working with communities, deployment of vessels and people, cleanup. Even today," he says.

"CEOs won't tolerate a CIO saying, 'We have never thought about this before.'"

Master of Business Metrics

When the CIO takes responsibility for helping create new products, attract new customers and bring in new revenue, the CEO will hold her accountable in new ways. Common IT metrics, such as on-time, on-budget projects and reduction in operational expenses, will remain part of the performance review. But in five years, the compensation of many IT leaders will depend on meeting the same business goals as the CEO and CFO, says Helen Cousins, CIO of Lincoln Trust and a CIO Hall of Fame inductee.

That already happens among elite IT executives today, but it will be a fact of life for most in the future, she says. At Lincoln Trust, a retirement investment firm with $8 billion in assets, Cousins, like her C-level peers, shows numbers to demonstrate that the technology her team built made the company more valuable: increases in new products, lower error rates among workers and higher customer satisfaction, as well as traditional financial objectives for revenue growth and earnings per share.

Stephanie Reel, CIO of Johns Hopkins University and its medical center, says future CIOs will be graded only partly on quantifiable items. Just as important will be qualitative measures such as whether better decisions are made faster, says Reel, also a 2012 CIO Hall of Fame honoree. "My colleagues want to know if the business is performing differently based on the use of information--not IT, but information," she says.

Innovation will become a critical measure of a CIO's worth but can be hard to assess, Surapaneni says. He suggests metrics such as the number of ideas brought to business units and then put into pilot. "You can't just measure by how much revenue was achieved. There may be no funding available or politics holding back development, but it doesn't mean the CIO didn't innovate."

Wildcard: The Economy

No one knows what the world economic situation will be in five days, never mind five years. Generally, a good economy is a free ride for mediocre executives. A bad economy can expose problems. But prolonged recession can also increase a company's collective will to change. And in those times, a brave and astute CIO can make a mark.

The precise wrong way to do it is to hitch expensive IT equipment upgrades to business projects, says Khan at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Executive peers may talk to a CIO about a project proposal, which some CIOs view as a chance to get funding for software and hardware. "IT politely blackmails the business," he says.

This erodes any progress the CIO had made in being viewed as a strategic partner, Khan says.

However, a down economy can make a handy proving ground for new ideas, says Cousins at Lincoln Trust. As the recession took hold after 2008, the problems in inefficient business processes became glaring when the workload increased and staffing was reduced. For example, more customers started to withdraw cash from their retirement accounts, she says. "When things are running smoothly, there is often a low appetite for change. A weak economy forces everyone in the organization to think creatively about every part of the workflow process," she says. "It was also a lot easier to sell such massive change to the board, as it was obvious that we could not continue doing things the way we had in the past."

Cousins built a new technology infrastructure based on process improvement that was so successful and efficient that a competitor bought the IRA business side of the company for its IT platform, she says. Future CIOs who can capitalize on bad times demonstrate a business maturity appealing to CEOs, Khan adds.

Theriault at Walgreens recommends CIOs study their CEOs carefully. "The role of CIO is a lot of times dictated by the CEO's strengths and weaknesses," he says. Knowing what your CEO wants, perhaps even before he or she identifies it, will carry any CIO far into the future.

Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99. Read her blog, Strategic CIO.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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