The dustup that arose last year after Gartner predicted that chief marketing officers will soon control more IT spending than their chief information officer counterparts and has percolated ever since, is a tempest in a teapot, at least according to one CIO. The real challenge CIOs face is that in an era when technology is less mysterious to employees, their skill sets need to change for them to remain relevant.
Instead of getting into slapfights with CMOs or other colleagues, CIOs need to hone their “softer” skills, said Joanne Kussuth, CIO of Needham, Mass.-based Olin College.
“The biggest thing that’s happened to the role of CIO in the past few years is the consumerization of IT — which means that CIOs and their tech staff are no longer the tech gurus in any organization,” she said in an interview this week. that may be a tough pill to swallow, but smart CIOs will realize that her success now depends on forging relationships and to do that, people skills are absolutely necessary.
“CIOs who believe they know better than everyone else get marginalized and those who don’t believe that aren’t running around worrying about their seat at the table” she said.
That’s not to say CIOs don’t need tech expertise — they do — but they “definitely don’t need 17 certifications and you do definitely need negotiation and soft skills,” she said.
In the ideal world, the CIO and the CMO and other C-level execs should work to make sure their collective boss and the board — understand what technology can do for the organization but also know that many of their constituent users know exactly what technology they want to use and to accommodate that wherever possible.
Kossuth’s job, in particular, is interesting in that Olin is a selective engineering school with about 325 students. It was founded in 1997 with funding from the Olin Foundation. The foundation funds a good part of each student’s tuition. Imagine being the person in charge of IT where every student has more than a working knowledge of technology beyond their own cell phones and tablets, and you get the picture.
The benefit from building communication skills and collaborating with various groups at the college is that great ideas bubble up from interesting places. Kussuth noted that Olin’s dining service wanted to get rid of paper. “Now they use a couple of iPads in the kitchen for recipes, lists. You can change the language on-screen as needed. Ditto the use of iPads by facilities management for tasks like fire extinguisher maintenance, automated time sheets etc. “None of those things were on my ‘to do’ list but they got done.”
So, in other words, the key to being a successful CIO is one we should have all learned in grade school: work well with others.