Sneak peek of MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2016: Thriving in the digital economy

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Now in its 13th year, the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium is a unique, must-attend event for CIOs and IT leaders. According to Chairman Lindsey Anderson, “It is the only global conference that combines the academic thought of MIT with the in-the-trenches, global experiences of exceptional CIOs, along with the insights of leading industry experts.”

We caught up with Anderson to find out what attendees can expect to learn at this year's Symposium, taking place on May 18 in Cambridge, MA, and why thriving in the new digital economy requires CIOs to “evolve or diminish.”

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): What differentiates the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium from other conferences for CIOs? Why is this an event that resonates so strongly with CIOs?

Lindsey AndersonAnderson: In many ways the Symposium reflects the motto of MIT, Mind and Hand. It is this intersection of theory (mind) and practice (hand) that makes the Symposium extraordinary. And true to its academic roots, the Symposium is the only CIO conference held on a major university campus.

Unlike many IT conferences, the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium isn't just about technology. It stems from MIT's Sloan School of Management, so its primary focus is on the intersection between technology and business: how organizations can best leverage technology to further their business ends.

The Symposium also emphasizes leadership and innovation. Through its MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award, the Symposium honors CIOs who lead their organizations in delivering business value and innovative use of IT in exceptional ways. The Symposium’s Innovation Showcase highlights 10 outstanding early stage companies with cutting edge solutions that combine both value and innovation to enterprise IT.

CIOs come on campus to learn about new technologies like AI and self-driving cars, to learn about economic changes like the on-demand/gig economy, to learn about new management practices like data science, and to learn about the future of work. 

TEP: This year’s theme is “thriving in the digital economy.” Why is that theme relevant now?

Anderson: Thriving in the digital economy is so relevant now because, according to MIT Sloan research (Leading Digital), companies that excel in digital transformations are 26 percent more profitable than their industry peers. Should this trend continue, it would completely restructure the global corporate landscape. We’re still very early in digital transformations; so there is still time for laggards to catch up, but not much time.

This year’s Symposium will help laggards catch up and enable digital leaders to continue to excel. Some topics include:

  • How companies will utilize Big Data 2.0 to address the cracks in company’s security and privacy, worries about data privacy and the limitations of analytics from the first wave of big data.
  • Data wrapping, the process of adding information to core offerings to enhance the value of products and services.
  • How quick digital innovators will develop and reuse technology and business components for different applications and engage in and learn from digital experiments.
  • Why working and thriving in an age of brilliant machines will require skills that complement rather than compete against technology.

TEP: What are the biggest pain points or concerns that you consistently hear CIOs raise?

Anderson: Over the last couple of years, the Symposium has characterized the biggest challenge to CIOs as “evolve or perish.” As organizations went through their digital transformations, CIOs needed to exert digital leadership across the whole company. Those who did, thrived; those that didn’t, may have lost their positions.

CIOs are also expressing concerns around speed. Are their organizations innovating fast enough? Are they pulling ahead or falling behind their known competitors? What new competitors are lurking over the horizon, ready to disrupt their business model through new technologies? What organizational structures do they need to adopt to excel and thrive in a rapidly changing world?

TEP: What do you expect will be the biggest disrupters to the CIO role in the next few years? 

Anderson: Digital will continue to be a major disruptor, but it will move beyond “evolve or perish” to redefining digital leadership roles within organizations. Those CIOs who can exercise digital leadership will enjoy a larger role within their executive suites, while those who can’t may find themselves subordinate to the emerging roles of Chief Digital, Data and Analytics Officer or to the CMO, CFO, or COO, their portfolio limited to the infrastructure and corporate systems. Instead of “evolve or perish,” it will become “evolve or diminish.”

Alternatively, CIOs who step up to a digital leadership role within their organizations will contribute in increasingly diverse and valuable ways, perhaps even assuming their organizations über digital role with responsibility for all things digital, as did Michael Nilles, the 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award winner. As CIOs become more business minded, there will be opportunities to move beyond technology into executive roles.

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.