CIOs need to rethink their roles, MIT symposium panelists say

'You have to be the customer," says one panelist, urging CIOs to 'really appreciate what the other side needs'

By now, it's become a tired old tech industry bromide: CIOs need to be business-savvy.

But while that sentiment remains true, technology trends, generational shifts in the workforce and changing demands from end users are forcing CIOs to go further and fundamentally rethink their roles, according to members of a panel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan CIO Symposium on Wednesday.

Rather than make broad decisions about a company's technology strategies and purchases, CIOs should act as "brokers," thinking of themselves as middlemen between users and the services they want or even create, said Michael Golz, senior vice president and CIO for SAP's Americas division.

Golz described SAP's internal "app gallery" which contains mobile applications developed by employees. SAP checks the applications' security, tracks and measures their adoption and makes some of the most popular ones part of the official company roster. An employee-built application for single sign-on was among those that made the cut, Golz said.

SAP's success shows that innovation is "coming from places in the company you would never think of," he said. "The role of IT there is, how do you play as that broker while still maintaining the integrity of your systems?"

The fact that some SAP employees are actually taking the initiative to build their own applications also speaks to the trend of "shadow IT," where end users or individual departments buy and deploy products without the involvement of technical staff.

This tends to be problematic, according to Keith Collins, CIO and CTO of SAS Institute. For example, departments that purchase a SaaS (software as a service) application for their specific needs may not consider important matters such as how it will be integrated with the company's other systems, he said.

As CIO at SAS, Collins' goal is to "attach the IT teams to the business in a way they've never been attached before" in order to keep them attuned to what users want and need. He's had success, albeit with perhaps an unexpected result: "The business units are now hiring away my best people."

But for budding CIOs, a stint actually working in a specific line of business can be hugely valuable, said Sanjay Mirchandani , executive vice president at EMC, who formerly served as CIO there.

"You have to be the customer," he said. "The people we are supporting are very technically savvy. The CIO should have done a [line of business] role to really appreciate what the other side needs."

As for their own staff, CIOs should seek to build out "a team of leaders" who have both technical skill and business acumen, according to Georgia Papathomas, vice president and CIO of J&J Pharmaceuticals.

Another panelist echoed the sentiment. "The typical IT analyst or technician goes in [to a business unit] and says, 'tell me your requirements," said Michael Loo, senior vice president of global IT at Avaya. "We need to get out of that. They have to have the courage to step up and contribute to the process." Some IT staff are simply "scared" and unsure how much leeway they have in this regard, he added.

Even as a CIO's role changes, their core responsibility of keeping the proverbial lights on remains intact, Golz said. Without that, "you can forget the innovation discussion," he said. "If the email's down, it doesn't even happen."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags IT managementCIO roleservicessoftwareemcSAPAvayaSAS InstituteMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?