The New New CIO Role: Big Changes Ahead

It's make-or-break transformation time for CIOs. Those who can only take orders are being ousted. Those who seek to become true strategic business leaders should concentrate on four key areas.

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PARTICIPATION: Don't Wait to Be Asked

When interviewed in July, SuperValu's Shurts had not been on the job for long, having taken the reins in late April. When asked what "boardroom expectations" had been placed on him, he replied that "it's probably fuzzier than most jobs, I'll give you that." But that lack of clarity (at that point in his tenure) didn't bother him in the least. He was taking initiative to set the overall expectations—for his department and for himself.

"I've gone out of my way to make sure that my expectations here are not all around IT," Shurts says. "I'm not shying away from all of those [IT] things: I own them all and am completely responsible for their success. But I want it to be more than that. I want to be playing in the strategy and business transformation areas as much as the IT area.... To some degree, I want people to think of me maybe as the chief transformation officer as well as the CIO."

Shurts isn't waiting for his invitation to the inner sanctum of SuperValu's strategy planning. And neither should other CIOs.

At Sony Electronics, CIO Drew Martin says "waiting to be asked" is a mistake that too many CIOs make. "I think it's more a matter of understanding what's important to the business—and then engaging in dialogue around what tech innovations can be brought to bear to accomplish those business objectives," Martin says. "If you wait to be asked, it's too late. If you have to ask for permission, there's a credibility gap there."

More and more of Sony Electronics' products are enabling new customer connections via the Internet and social media platforms. In turn, Martin and his group are side by side with business peers ensuring that when, say, the marketing group wants to engage with customers via Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, or via a Sony product-support site, they have the CRM tools to do that.

For instance, Sony maintains a "Sony Listens" customer service on Twitter. Martin says it's critical that when there's "conversation out there regarding dissatisfaction or confusion we have the infrastructure support to listen and respond effectively."

IT also needs to be out in front of line of business managers' burgeoning interest in cloud computing—guiding them through the hype to figure out "what's valuable in the hype and what things should be avoided, and making trade-offs and decisions," Martin says. "That's a fundamental thing we have to do."

The growing trend of line of business managers circumventing IT is also an opportunity for CIOs to raise their profile and ingratiate themselves into the business to show real leadership, says SuperValu's Shurts. "We have to be proactive," he says. "We need to tell the story [to our business peers] around integration and data being the same in different places, since you'll end up with siloed applications at the end if we don't work together and get the data right across the enterprise."

Many CIOs today can claim additional responsibilities outside of traditional IT duties. For instance, there's CIO Gary Reiner who also runs GE's $55 billion procurement group. Or CIO Stephen Gillett who's in charge of Starbucks' Digital Ventures team that's working on in-store tech and media offerings.

American Airlines' Ford terms this CIO personal development strategy "getting outside your comfort zone." When he first joined American, for instance, he asked for and received the additional role of building out AA's e-commerce and online efforts. And though that's no longer his direct responsibility (he handed it off to a new marketing hire some years later), he's still helping co-innovate Web-based and mobile applications today.

LAST: How your performance will be evaluated...

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