Talent, not shadow IT or hackers, is what keeps CIOs up at night

756 readers like this.
desk IT talent help wanted

CIOs are often asked to answer the question “What keeps you up at night?” The intention of this question is usually to get them talking about the common pain points facing CIOs in a general sense. But the result is too often an overblown or misrepresented view of what's truly worrying CIOs when they turn off the lights at the end of the day. According to Adam Dennison, SVP and publisher of IDG Enterprise, for the most part, IT leaders have a pretty good handle on the common concerns facing their role – and what really keeps them up is not at all what you might think. We caught up with Adam to discuss.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Shadow IT, hackers, losing control of tech spending – these are highly cited as top of mind concerns for CIOs today. How have your conversations with CIOs supported or contradicted those key pain points?

Dennison: I've spoken with a lot of CIOs in my role and at various events, and while those are indeed issues they deal with every day, I think the reports of “pain” are greatly exaggerated. For example, many of the CIOs I know have started referring to shadow IT as shadow innovation. Rather than staying awake from worry, CIOs are trying to figure out how they can adapt a cool technology project that someone is leading in marketing or in the retail arm, learn from it, and bring it across the whole organization. CIOs tell me that shadow IT happens, they expect it, and that it ebbs and flows. If it escalates into a problem, then CIOs take full responsibility – either they haven’t explained how they can collaborate with other teams, or they haven’t explained the value that IT can bring to the larger organization. They don't worry about this because they see it as their own problem, not the business' problem.

Increasingly fractured budgets is another pain point that is routinely touted to be plaguing IT leaders, often backed up by the three year-old Gartner prediction that by 2017 the CMO would be spending more on IT than the CIO. But, the reality I hear most often is that CIOs hold about two-thirds of the IT budget. The other one-third sits in the business units, and they’re okay with that. In fact, they want other areas of the business to have some skin in the game. As long as they’re all collaborating and working together, it’s not the problem that it's made out to be.

You could say security and hackers are worrisome for CIOs, but again, I don’t think it's keeping them up at night. They understand that they’re probably being hacked. And if they haven’t been yet, they’re going to be. More worrisome is how to find enough time in the day to get out in front of the issue and manage their overall risk profile so that when security issues do arise, they are fully prepared. But getting through the massive to-do list on any CIO's desk in a given day is a problem that isn't going to go away any time soon.

TEP: If these concerns aren't keeping CIOs up at night, what is?

Dennison: There is one pain point that I hear from almost every CIO I speak with, and this one may in fact be keeping them up at night: talent. And I'm not just referring to talent shortages (our most recent CIO survey revealed talent gaps in the areas of data, security, and app development). The issues with talent go beyond hiring as CIOs struggle to build and retain teams that can handle the fast-moving, ever-changing needs of digital transformation.

I recently spoke with the CIO of an Ivy League institution who told me they have a firing problem, not a hiring problem. I've spoken with large organizations that have huge staffs, and they worry that they can’t move fast enough to adopt the technology they need because the new IT talent doesn’t want to work on the old stuff, and the old talent doesn’t understand the new stuff.

Finding the right IT talent that is also able to understand and articulate what the business needs to succeed with technology is very challenging. As the lines between business and IT continue to blur, I think resolving this pain point will be critical to a CIO's digital transformation efforts.


Adam Dennison brings more than 15 years of media sales experience to his role as Senior Vice President & Publisher for IDG Enterprise, leading the integrated sales team. In this role, Dennison oversees the brands go-to-market strategies, including brand positioning, market research and creating turnkey solutions for his clients. Dennison joined IDG in 2007 as National Sales Director for the Custom Solutions Group where he excelled in providing innovative marketing services. A popular moderator, speaker and columnist, Dennison possesses an in-depth knowledge of emerging technologies and key strategies for marketing to IT decision-makers. These insights are shared in his regular CIO magazine column. Additionally, Dennison has recently spoken at several conferences and private events for companies including Avaya, Citrix, Dropbox, Samsung and VMware.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.