by Maryfran Johnson

Only a Small Percentage of CIOs Are Triple Threats

Nov 30, 20123 mins

CIOs tend to be good at management and problem-solving, but only a few are good at selling. We found a small, inspiring group of CIOs who are actually generating revenue for their business.

The world of work, as I see it, runs on three distinct kinds of talent. There are people who love to create, people who excel at managing, and people who were born to sell.

Most of us are very strong in one area, reasonably good in another and do our best to avoid the third. Editors are creators and managers, for example, but rarely are we any good at sales. The late Steve Jobs was extraordinarily gifted at creating and selling, but he struggled to become a better manager.

In my little model of the world, it’s exceedingly rare to be a triple threat: equally talented at creating, managing and selling. Most of the CIOs I know, for example, have formidable strengths in management and creativity (especially in problem-solving), but the drive to sell is rarely part of your DNA.

So I had mixed feelings while reading our cover story about revenue-generating CIOs (“Yes, CIOs Can Be Moneymakers”). How much more, I wondered, can we expect from the CIO job these days? The answers in our story may surprise you–they may even inspire you.

We found several examples of CIOs who’ve found creative ways to generate revenue without adding “VP of sales” to their titles. Some were deploying IT to pump up showroom sales or generate new leads. Others were selling homegrown software to other companies, or turning valuable data into a profitable information service. Everybody was bringing their internal business strategist to work each day.

At Quintiles Transnational, for example, CIO Richard Thomas and his staff repurposed internal analytics systems into a commercial product line that’s brought in more than $40 million in new business for the biopharmaceutical services firm. At AIG’s Advisor Group subsidiary, COO David Ballard saved the business unit by launching client-management tools for financial advisers. At Boeing, CIO Kim Hammonds devotes 10 percent of her IT organization to revenue-generating activities by giving logistical support to major contracts. Becoming a revenue generator requires CIOs to separate core IT processes from those likely to be competitive differentiators, says CIO Randy Gaboriault of Christiana Care Health System, which earned tens of millions by selling telemedicine services to other hospitals.

Yet while the CIO role certainly has the potential to generate revenue, only a small percentage actually manage to do so, says consultant Peter High of Metis Strategy. “It’s the particularly clever CIOs who recognize this advantage and grab hold of it.” So follow the leaders: the triple threats.