Adobe CIO: What it takes to be an exceptional CIO in the "Age of Everywhere"

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CIO as Digital Leader

Since becoming SVP and CIO at Adobe Systems during summer 2016, Cynthia Stoddard has kept up a hectic schedule getting to know the company, which has included building relationships with her colleagues around the world. The Enterprisers Project caught up with her to discuss what makes for a winning CIO today.

CIO_Q and A
The Enterprisers Project (TEP): As digital transformation rolls on and we approach what eBay’s CEO called “The Age of Everywhere,” many IT groups are defining what the next generation of their organization looks like. That begs the question – what does the ideal CIO look like for the successful future of IT?
Stoddard: I think today’s CIOs need to be extremely well rounded.  They should have broad business and technical backgrounds and be confident in taking risks.
TEP: There is always a debate out there about technical vs. business CIO or business vs. technical. What if you had to choose one?
Stoddard: Both are important, but as the role of the CIO has evolved to be closer to the business, it’s imperative that they have strong business acumen.
As a CIO, one of your primary roles is to be what I call a translator and an advisor on how technology can be adapted to the business. So unless you know how the business operates — and not just your own business, but the business of your customers, too — you’re not going to be able to do that. And a CIO needs a certain amount of credibility to be that confidante or advisor to the executive team.

So I would say, get a lot of business experience. And that doesn’t necessarily mean working in the business units, but it’s important to get business exposure. The goal is that you’re capable of anticipating the needs of your business colleagues based on the competitive environment and the problems customers are trying to solve. Then you can bring fresh ideas to the table and pair them with ways that technology can be used to solve those customer problems.

In my view, data is the new currency of the enterprise. CIOs have to be on top of their game there – understanding how to use data, what tools are available, and how they can put the entire data/analytics ecosystem to work.

 TEP: What’s an example of that business problem/technology intersection?
Stoddard: Data and analytics are great examples. If you understand how you can take the essence of what data is trying to tell you into a business problem and get to a solution, it can be very powerful. That brings up another CIO success factor, which is to be obsessed with data, because data is really a differentiator. In my view, data is the new currency of the enterprise. CIOs have to be on top of their game there – understanding how to use data, what tools are available, and how they can put the entire data/analytics ecosystem to work. Data is going to help with that “Age of Everywhere” you mentioned, because you’re going to have to deliver compelling experiences to where all these customers are.
TEP: What other qualities are important for today’s CIO?
Stoddard: Being customer-centric is key. Try to put yourself in your external customers’ shoes. Also try to put yourself in your internal customers’ shoes. Understand the characteristics of both sets of problems and what best practices – around people, processes, and technology – you can bring to the table.
Finally, it’s also important to roll up your sleeves and be a practitioner. As I outlined earlier, having a technical background is important; being able to participate in a technical conversation with your staff is invaluable. It allows you to relate to the problem and be in a stronger position to help remove road blocks. That kind of conversation makes you a lot more credible.
TEP: That’s a great list of strengths. Where do you see shortfalls?
Stoddard: I think that CIOs sometimes get too comfortable, and they don’t want to look around the corners. But even if your systems are running well and IT is a happy place, we need to push ourselves and continue to innovate. You need to ask yourself, "What is the next generation of ideas we should be focused on? I also see that some CIOs aren’t getting outside their silos. To that I would say, go sit with your CTO, CFO, or CMO. Go see what's on their minds. In today’s environment, CIOs are working hand-in-hand with the C-Suite to drive the business, so it’s important to collaborate with and influence other executive leaders.  
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