by Maryfran Johnson

Why CIOs Should Get Out More

Feb 29, 20123 mins
CIOCRM Systems

Facetime with customers can yield real business wins driven by IT. What are you waiting for?

Set down your devices. Step away from that keyboard. Unplug from your social networks. Let’s revisit the basics of face-to-face (F2F), one-on-one human connection.

At the risk of sounding retro, I’ll take an F2F conversation over a digitized exchange any time. A real smiling face sends a more nuanced, genuine message than any string of emoticons ever could. No wonder the subject of our cover story (“5 Ways CIOs Benefit From Facetime with Customers”) made me want to stand up and cheer.

CIOs are notoriously office-bound and internally focused on IT operations, as our recent State of the CIO research showed. Only 9 percent of nearly 600 CIOs we surveyed were spending any time studying market trends and customer needs—and probably far fewer are getting out to visit customers.

Yet the desire for customer outreach is simmering away on your back burners. Nearly one-third of you told us that paying attention to customers will become a much bigger part of your job in the next three to five years. My question: What are you waiting for?

Our story serves up a simple five-point to-do list for ramping up customer contacts, and it promises immediate rewards, such as fresh ideas and new insights into where IT can improve the business. We detail specific examples from companies such as Automatic Data Processing (ADP), Supervalu, Brandywine Realty Trust, Maple Leaf Foods and PNC Financial Services Group. CIO Michael Capone of ADP, for example, tries to spend 20 percent of his time in the field. His department doesn’t wait for the business to devise strategy for IT to enable, he points out. “We help envision what’s possible with technology.”

At grocery retailer Supervalu, CIO Wayne Shurts and other senior execs work in the stores twice a year. “When I go to a store, I’m not looking only at IT. The customer doesn’t think of the store as a technology experience,” he notes. “I’m looking for ways to improve the overall experience, whether that includes IT or not.”

If getting out among customers isn’t practical in your industry, another great resource to tap into is your own network. CIO Jeff Hutchinson of Maple Leaf Foods lunches out with the IT chief from his company’s biggest customer, swapping leadership tips and industry info.

So start making time and stop making excuses. Get out there.

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. Email her at