The media perspective

Bryan Glick, Editor in Chief of ComputerWeekly, the UK’s largest technology publication aimed at CIOs, gives his view on how the role of the CIO has been changing.

You’ve been meeting and talking to CIOs for many years now. What are the key changes you’ve observed in recent years, in terms of the types of people who are now taking the top technology job?
There are more CIOs now with direct experience of a business function, rather than with a traditional IT background. Also, for a lot of companies, although you might see this differently, we notice that many CIO positions have often become a shorter-term role. We quite often see CIOs coming in to manage a change process to implement a major new strategic system, and then they finish up and move on. So there are a lot more CIOs around who are basically change management experts.

Media relations is a very low priority for CIOs. Why do you think this might be?
It’s likely due to a lack of trust. For many people who’ve been in IT for a long time, the media focus has mostly been on projects failing, systems crashing and budgets going over. So I can understand their wariness about talking to the press. But looking at the situation today, I think many publications have changed and often act as a champion for CIOs. This doesn’t mean we don’t cover IT failures, but we want to see CIOs moving up and being recognized for what they do. Unfortunately, some simply don’t see the necessity to change their position with the business and move up.

What value do you think a greater media presence can give a CIO?
We know CIOs have got a lot of value out of talking to the media. Many people contact them to say they’ve read a piece about a project of theirs and found it very interesting. Many are seeing benefits in terms of their personal PR, as well as the corporate reputation benefits of being more involved in the media. It certainly helps their career and their internal positioning for a more senior role in the business – or even a new job altogether. Many CIOs have also found it easier to recruit people afterward, as a result of the wider profile.

Which stakeholders do you think CIOs tend to overlook as they build the relationships they need to be successful in their role?
CIOs these days are generally doing a better job of building an internal stakeholder network, but there’s certainly still scope to do more of this externally. Increasingly, the role of the CIO is to be an ideas person and an innovator. If they can find ways to network more effectively with people outside of their company, it can open their eyes to new possibilities and ideas.

This report talks about the evolving skillset of the CIO. What do you see as the key skills required of a modern CIO?
The most important attribute for a CIO today is to be a communicator – someone who can collaborate with people from a lot of different backgrounds and environments. They’ve got to be able to lead the IT function in a way that will best support the rest of the business. CIOs are in a unique position, often holding a helicopter view of what’s going on in the business. The days of guys in their brown corduroys and tweed jackets, sitting in the corner of their data center, are thankfully behind us. Today, the most successful CIOs are some of the best public speakers and communicators around. They are adept at putting across complex topics in an easy to understand way.

How do you think companies can benefit from having a “modern” CIO on board?
If you ask anyone to name the top five most innovative companies over the past five years, they will either be technology companies like Facebook, or else firms that rely on technology to differentiate themselves in their niche, such as Tesco [one of the world’s largest retailers]. Indeed, Tesco is one of the first major companies to appoint its former CIO as its CEO. And the current CIO there tells us that there are basically two major areas of capital expenditure for the business: retail stores and technology, on a par with each other. That’s an example of what companies can do when leading CIOs get this right. Technology can help them really differentiate themselves in the market. You’re starting to see a lot more firms with that sort of mindset.

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