THE BLOG
12/19/2013 03:44 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2014

CIO Magazine's Editor-In-Chief Answers the Top 5 Questions on Every CIO's Mind

In her role as the Editor in Chief of the printed CIO Magazine and the event division, Maryfran Johnson spends 90% of her time in conversation with CIOs. In addition, she has had the privilege of meeting 2,600 of the most innovative IT leaders who have been recognized at the CIO 100 Symposium & Award Ceremony each year. Her interactions with hundreds of CIOs each year and the findings of the State of the CIO survey which the magazine conducts each year all sums up to a 360 degree view of CIOs and IT leaders. Johnson shared her insights with me on the issues that are most important to CIOs today and even gave our CXOTalk viewers a sneak peak at some of the 2014 State of the CIO survey results (full results to be released in January). If you are a CIO or IT leader, keep reading.

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Maryfran Johnson, CIO Magazine

The Top 5 CIO Questions Answered

What are the key traits of a word-class CIO?
An excellent CIO has many traits including having an entrepreneurial spirit, a knack for building great relationships, a focus on building great IT organizations by bringing in top talent and thinking about the future. But the most important trait in a world-class CIO is an unrelenting focus outside the organization. Johnson tells us that having an external and not an internal focus is the most important attribute of the best CIOs; everything else is table stakes. World-class CIOs think about customers and the customer experience. Johnson says that the best CIOs get out there and see how the technology is being used.

Will the CIO role be displaced by the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role?
The incredible growth of the new CDO role cannot be ignored. A recent MIT Sloane article said that in 2011 there were only 75 CDOs, yet we will exit the year 2013 with 500. According to Gartner, 1 out of every 4 enterprises will appoint a CDO within two years. With so many CDOs coming in it's no wonder CIOs fear being displaced, especially in light of the fact that often times the CDO reports directly to the CEO while the CIO usually reports to the CFO. However there is a silver lining. The results of CIO Magazine's 2014 State of the CIO survey reveal that we are at the point now where 44% of CIOs are reporting to the CEO and only 18% are reporting to CFOs - good news for CIOs. This finding indicates that CIOs are defining themselves by the value that they can bring to the business by helping to accelerate growth.

Additionally, the fact that 61% of CIOs compensation is tied to company profits is a huge indicator that they are seen as senior business leaders in their companies, which according to Johnson is where CIOs are all headed, regardless of the title. Johnson also predicts that the title of CDO may not matter in the future because everything will be digital anyway. The fact that the WSJ launched CIO Journal on its website last year further makes the case for the continued need for the role of the CIO.

What factors define CIO success?
Johnson tells us bluntly that, "CIOs lose their jobs a lot." Having asked CIOs about tenure for the last 13 years, she has found that it has ranged from 3 to 6 years. The good news is that the number is on the rise with CIO tenure being around 6 years today. So how can a CIO increase their lifespan on the job? Successful CIOs will experience longevity in their role when they are deeply involved in the business and don't just want to align the IT organization with business growth but want to accelerate it.

CIOs also need to tell CEOs the things they want to hear, like how they can make better use of analytics and find new ways to slice and dice information and turn out more customer information to figure out new ways to drive more business and to serve customers better. Johnson is onboard with Forrester Research who says that customer experience will be the biggest buzz word in 2014. So for 2014, CIO success will be defined by how well they can answer the question, "What has IT done for customer experience lately?"

What is the optimum relationship between IT and the business?
Johnson says it's when you are at a meeting and you can't tell who the IT person is because they are so embedded in the business. This is why the relationship between the CIO and the CMO are the closest and most beneficial. Successful CIOs no longer look at Shadow IT as a threat but as a consultative opportunity where they can open people's eyes to what the IT organization can provide. CIOs should heed the advice from Adriana Karaboutis, VP and Global CIO of Dell who said in a recent Huffington Post article, "instead of being the organization that is avoided, business partners come to IT and ask for their help and support." These types of business conversations that happen between business people and IT people reflect positively on the CIO. The best CIOs take these conversations and their knowledge of the importance of soft skills back to the IT organization and groom successors. Intel's Kim Stevenson said it best: "There are no IT projects, just business projects."

Will today's technology mega trends marginalize IT?
Johnson sees technology megatrends as a huge opportunity for IT to keep rising up the stack instead of being pigeon-holed as just a functional department. These mega trends give CIOs the opportunity to place IT front and center in terms of product development and engineering. Dane Anderson, vice president, research director and region manager for Forrester Research, says that megatrends are fast changing the role of CIOs. According to Anderson, "Organizations now look for CIOs who move beyond concentrating on IT as a force for operational automation, integration and control to seeing how technology can serve as a business amplifier and source of innovation. In fact, 80% of CIOs acknowledge that they should actually be spending two-thirds of their time with the business."

According to Johnson there is always something that comes along where everyone thinks it will marginalize IT, like cloud, but with that there comes a whole new complex set of skills to manage these vendors and these are the types of skills that good CIOs are bringing into their organization. CIOs are happy to go to the cloud for the infrastructure, because it enables them to be focused on the delivery of business applications and strategic moves for the company going forward. Johnson says that it's not so much the tools, but what you are doing with the tools that matters most to CIOs.

Stay tuned for the full 2014 State of the CIO survey results which will appear in the January print issue of CIO Magazine and online on January 1st.

You can watch the full interview with Maryfran Johnson here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM ET as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields