MIT Sloan CIO Symposium sneak peek: Preparing for continuous change

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[During the next week, we will feature articles and Q&As with speakers from the upcoming 2017 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.]

The MIT Sloan CIO Symposium is a must-attend event for CIOs and IT leaders. According to Chairman Lindsey Anderson, this year's conference will explore a difficult question: How can CIOs prepare their teams for a future that is hard to predict in the digital age?

We caught up with Anderson to find out what attendees can expect to learn at this year's Symposium, taking place on May 24 in Cambridge, MA, and why success in the digital world will require CIOs to become even more adaptable business leaders.

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): The theme of this year’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium is “The CIO Adventure: Now, Next and … Beyond.” What do you hope to cover under this theme, and what will CIOs take away?

Lindsey AndersonAnderson: The CIO adventure is filled with opportunities and fraught with perils. This year the Symposium focuses on helping CIOs capitalize on opportunities that will make their organizations more successful. Specifically, we will cover how to:

  • Develop a framework for digital transformation
  • Capture value from IoT
  • Win the talent war, within both IT and your organization as a whole
  • Put AI to work
  • Expand the reach of digital innovation
  • Harness the digital future through machine, platform, and crowd
  • Become a cognitive company
  • Prepare for the future of work
  • Rethink organizational design

The key takeaways will be enterprise innovations, more effective business practices, and actionable insights enabling CIOs and senior IT executives to meet the challenges of today, tomorrow, and beyond. The Symposium delivers these takeaways by providing a unique learning environment, pairing the academic thought leadership of MIT with the in-the-trenches experience of leading, global CIOs and industry experts.

TEP: Much of the agenda is focused on the future, but with the increasing pace of technology change, the future is hard to predict. What are some ways CIOs can truly prepare their teams for the “beyond” in today’s ever-changing technology landscape?

Anderson: This is a tough question because if we don’t know what “beyond” is, we can’t prepare for it specifically. Yet prepare we must, because we know it is coming.

Therefore, I recommend CIOs prepare their teams by focusing on adapting their organizations to continuous technological change rather than on specific technologies. If an organization can develop an expertise in adapting, it matters less what the technology actually is.

If an organization can develop an expertise in adapting, it matters less what the technology actually is.

Most CIOs are already wrestling with adapting to dramatic technological change as part of their organization’s digital transformation. CIOs should leverage this experience to understand the drivers of transformation within their organization, as well as the barriers, and then apply the lessons learned to the next technological transformation. 

TEP: In your opinion, what are the attributes that make great CIOs stand out above the rest? And what are the pitfalls standing in their way?

Anderson: The finalists of the MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award, past and present, best exemplify the characteristics of outstanding CIOs. They are exceptional communicators, able to articulate a vision for strategic business value from IT. They are recognized IT leaders, clearly demonstrating value-for-money in the management of core IT services by providing the right services at the right price and the right level of quality. They are drivers of business value, understanding the business and the needs of the CEO, CFO, line-of-business heads, and other senior executives. They incorporate IT into business decision-making by participating in key strategic conversations, suggesting innovative uses of IT, and managing risk.

The final and most important trait is to be a trusted partner or “CIO-Plus.” Outstanding CIOs are considered trusted members of the senior executive team, not just technology leaders. They suggest innovative uses of IT to transform the business and successfully execute the changes. They are executive leaders, not order takers.

I want to avoid the word “pitfall.” Pitfall implies tripping over something or a “gotcha.” It’s not what average CIOs do, it’s what they don’t do that makes them average. They fail to step up and become business leaders. Technology alone is not enough.

TEP: How have the challenges facing CIOs changed since the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium last year?

Outstanding CIOs are considered trusted members of the senior executive team, not just technology leaders. They are executive leaders, not order takers.

Anderson: CIOs today are still wrestling with talent shortages, budget constraints, technological change, etc. like they were last year, but the urgency and intensity of those challenges have increased, driven by their organization’s digital transformation. IT organizations need to become “factories” churning out digital capabilities. CIOs need to transform enterprise software into callable APIs, upgrade databases and middleware, develop with open source, move to cloud with various lift-and-shift methods, automate delivery with DevOps, and measure IT productivity with data, while at the same time, enhancing their business acumen and recognition as business leaders within their organizations.

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.