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CIO role: Is IT facing a leadership crisis?

Meridith Levinson | Oct. 24, 2011
David Reynolds wants to be a CIO, and the 35-year-old systems manager for the Rhode Island Blood Center may well be on his way.

David Reynolds wants to be a CIO, and the 35-year-old systems manager for the Rhode Island Blood Center may well be on his way.

Reynolds began his career in finance in the late 1990s, while he was earning his bachelor's degree in accounting and computer science from Rhode Island College. He worked as an internal auditor for Vector Healthsystems and had performed just about every function in accounting including general ledger, accounts payable and accounts receivable. But the work bored him. So in 1999 he moved into IT in a help desk support position. Four years later he landed his current role, in which he manages two people and oversees the blood center's IT systems.

Reynolds says he wouldn't trade his financial background "for anything in the world." He views the understanding it gave him of business, budgeting, return on investment, and cost/benefit analyses as invaluable preparation for the CIO role.

"When you come from the financial world, you can better explain to executives what a new technology will bring as far as costs and benefits," he says. "I find I have a lot more respect from that group because I worked in their profession. They don't just look at me as the IT nerd."

Reynolds, who comes off more like a sales guy than a staid bean counter due to his charismatic personality, understands that to be a CIO today he has to speak the language of business; he has to anticipate his users' needs; and he has to build relationships--with his team members, with colleagues and executives in other business functions, and with vendors.

But is that enough to be a successful CIO today and in the future? Certainly, it's a good start, but aspiring CIOs need even more experience and capabilities to excel in IT leadership positions, according to CIOs, executive recruiters and IT analysts.

They agree that the CIO role is undergoing a significant shift, brought about by the recession, globalization, the advent of cloud computing, the explosion of big data, shifting business demands, and the omnipresence of consumer technology. To compete today and in the future, companies need CIOs who understand the businesses and can think of innovative ways to use technology to improve the customer experience, boost revenue, increase market share and accelerate business growth. This business imperative requires a different mix of capabilities than was necessary to be a successful CIO in the past. The CIOs of tomorrow need to focus much more on innovation, end customers and business growth, and much less on IT infrastructure.

Khalid Kark, a vice president and research director at Forrester Research, estimates that less than 10 percent of today's CIOs operate in this business-focused manner.


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