Panel: Future CIOs will have careers blending non-tech roles with traditional IT duties

Employee retention and corporate image are some of the issues that CIOs will have to consider as they manage technology

Next-generation CIOs will have to consider how technology affects other corporate departments as well as handle traditional IT management functions, especially those accompanying mobile device management and greater data analysis, according to panelists who spoke at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Consumer mobile devices have entered the enterprise and CIOs need to support them while considering their security risks, said speakers who participated in a Tuesday discussion on the challenges facing future CIOs. IT departments can "either support [the bring-your-own-device trend] or be a receiver of the fallout," said Rob Stefanic, CIO of Sensata Technology. Sensata "set the tone without understanding the consequences" of mobile devices after adopting a cloud-based collaboration tool in 2007 and having employees access it with hardware besides a desktop. The company, which makes sensors and controls for industrial use, practices a mobile security plan that focuses on ensuring the IT department can mitigate breach risks without locking down devices or blocking employee data access. Mobile security decisions, though, impact more than how a company protects its assets, said Scott Penberthy, managing director, technology, at accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. A clunky user interface on a mobile device can cost an employee time and ultimately result in business going to a competitor, said Penberthy, who also served as CTO of Apple mobile app development company AppOrchard. "Those decisions are impacting how people view your company, how people interact with your business and the cycle time of productivity," he said. And the image presented by a company's technology and website become important when recruiting and retaining workers, panelists said. Stefanic is involved with Sensata's college recruiting and finds that candidates are asking about the technology the company is using, raising questions on the impression the company's IT creates, he said. "Branding becomes extremely important and technology really helps to set the tone for a new entrant and starts to form an opinion of us," Stefanic said. For Penberthy, IT's role is "all about putting the data in the hands of people the way they are used to it." This means allowing younger employees to use mobile devices and teaching more senior workers how they can expand content on their smartphone screens, he said. Information generated from studying structured and unstructured data will prove valuable to marketing professionals, and future CIOs will help develop relationships between the IT and marketing departments, the panelists said. "Having that data is not for the CFO anymore," said Dan Sheehan, chief operating officer of Modell's Sporting Goods. "That is looking in the rearview mirror." Instead, enterprises want to be more productive and drive traffic. At Dunkin' Brands, the organization that franchises Dunkin' Donuts coffee and doughnut shops and where Sheehan served as CIO before joining Modell's, data was used to make real-time marketing decisions, he said. Daily restaurant sales data was analyzed and available for marketing the following afternoon so the department could immediately align their marketing spending to an area's sales, he said. At Sensata, previous internal data-analysis efforts generated reports with information already known to the company. Now, analyzing internal and external data together allows the company "to get ahead of the curve as opposed to continuing to look back," said Stefanic. In addition to identifying trends, finding value in the data leads to more acceptance of business intelligence efforts, he said. "Once we can share with the organization how they can see patterns forming, the adopt rate goes up tremendously." Future CIOs need a firm grasp of how every level of their organization functions and contributes to the bottom line, Sheehan said. "You've got to be a business technologist. You have to be able to learn the business," he said. For him this meant working the Modell's sales floor for a few weeks after he joined the retailer in April. This allowed him to learn the challenges facing store employees, a group whose performance and interaction with customers directly affects corporate revenue. "You need to understand what the lowest level of the organization is faced with because that is the way you are ultimately going to go about generating sales," he said.

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Fred O'Connor

IDG News Service

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