by Maryfran Johnson

Advice For CIOs: Beyond the Obvious

Nov 02, 2010

CIO magazine Editor in Chief Maryfran Johnson on CIOs who mean business and the lessons they learned that helped them s쳮d.

Everybody in our industry seems to love giving CIOs advice. How often have you heard those memorable bromides about understanding your business, thinking “more strategically” or connecting with customers?

Like most clichés, there is a core of commonsense truth beneath the obvious and the oversimplified surface. There actually is, as one CIO friend puts it, “a pony under that pile.” The most successful CIOs are those who move past operational expertise and establish themselves as business strategists with the rest of the senior executive team.

Yet getting there is a far more complex undertaking than the clichés suggest. How do strategic CIOs really pull it off?

“It’s about having the skills to go from aligning with the business to helping accelerate the business,” says WellPoint’s Executive Vice President of Enterprise Business Services Lori Beer, one of several executives we interviewed for our cover story (“What’s Next for the CIO Role”). “We have to focus beyond doing the basics well, beyond streamlining and driving efficiency internally. To me, the next level is about how you help the company grow.”

Our story, written by Diane Frank, editorial manager of our CIO Executive Council, lays out the practical details of the experiences of several CIOs who have both advanced their leadership roles and helped their companies grow. The moves they made required some skills that aren’t necessarily built into the IT executive career ladder. They learned how to foster collaboration across business units, for example, and how to exert influence throughout the company hierarchy.

Of course, their first order of business was—not surprisingly—ensuring that IT operations ran extremely well. Having that vital tactical piece in place frees up time to devote to IT’s strategic focus. “When I think about where I add the most value,” says Kelli Crane, senior vice president and CIO of Thomson Reuters, “it’s in change leadership and in thinking about where we can do things differently.”

Also common ground for these CIOs is the way they think about IT in terms of the business goals it can achieve. They are all especially attentive to demonstrating value with IT that creates new opportunities.

“Put a general manager’s hat on,” recommends Savino DiPasquale, CIO and vice president of business development for GlaxoSmithKline Canada. “That’s probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten.”

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. E-mail her at