by Diane Frank

Three Opportunities for CIOs to Prove Their Business Smarts

Nov 02, 2010

A new job, a fresh corporate focus or a business-focused conversation can help CIOs burnish their image as strategic leaders.

When CIOs join a new organization, or their current company changes direction, they have an opportunity to establish themselves as strategic leaders. It doesn’t matter if their companies aren’t large or if they work in industries that adopt new technologies slowly. (For more on strategic CIOs, see “What’s Next for the CIO Role.”)

1. Get a new job. Frank Cervone, Purdue University Calumet’s CIO and vice chancellor of information services, is the institution’s first C-level IT executive. When he arrived in 2009, he set out to change how the campus serves its students—a Purdue-wide goal. In the process, he challenged campus executives to think more broadly about how to provide services to faculty, staff and students. Being new, Cervone had a new perspective, which helped get business leaders to listen to his ideas.

2. Move forward with your company. At online marketer Epic Media Group, CIO Rick Okin plans to take advantage of a pause in merger activity to solidify executives’ expectations for IT. Epic grew rapidly from a startup into a global company, and Okin focused on keeping mission-critical systems functioning during its expansion. Now, however, he is tackling strategic needs, such as finding a better way to analyze and act quickly on data collected from the more than 300 million ads Epic serves each day.

3. Don’t stick to IT. Even within industries that are slow to adopt new technologies, it’s possible for CIOs to step into a business-focused role. When, earlier in his career, Savino DiPasquale became an IT leader at a manufacturing company, a plant manager stressed that he should “put a general manager’s hat on”—to think about how to achieve business goals with IT, not just how to implement new systems.

“That’s probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten,” recalls DiPasquale, who is now VP of business development and CIO at ­GlaxoSmithKline Canada. “I’ve used that throughout my career to focus on trying to help the business from a business perspective, and to be a contributor versus only speaking up when there’s an IT issue on the table.