Leading Your Way to the Top

By Eric Lundquist

Leading in a mobile, social and cloud-based world can take a CIO straight to the top. That is the gospel of the second edition of Straight to the Top: CIO Leadership in a Mobile, Social, and Cloud-based World, which is written by Gregory S. Smith, whose CIO stints include Pew Charitable Trusts and the World Wildlife Fund. Smith provides a guided tour of today’s technology and business changes in Straight to the Top while also explaining how executives can leverage those changes for career advancement and business success.

I’ve shared the stage with Smith several times, most recently during a keynote interview last fall in New York. While some keynotes can be awful yawners, Smith’s rapid-fire discussion of business and technology trends stirred the audience, which kept asking questions, particularly ones about security and compliance in today’s mobile, consumer-driven world. Those questions about how to prepare for technology changes, how to structure a company to leverage new technologies, and what are the tech gotchas to avoid are covered in depth in this new edition. If you are looking for practical advice on how to embrace and profit from technology changes, this book is for you.

In an era of bring your own device (BYOD), applications available to the business user with the swipe of a credit card, and books titled “Does IT Matter?”, Smith contends, “Regarding  the skills that CIOs need today, let me be crystal clear. The CIO must have technical knowledge (practical and theoretical) in addition to solid business skills in order to be able to succeed in today’s complex environments and beyond.”

Smith, who holds a BS in computer science and an MS in business, takes on chunks of mobile, social and cloud computing technologies individually and as a whole. Maybe a year or two ago you might have got some argument from the analysts that mobile, social and cloud were not three of the big technology drivers. Those arguments against the big three have moved from strained to silly as major technology vendors, startups and the customer community are engaged in a race to restructure the entire concept of IT infrastructure.

A central theme for Smith is that the CIO needs to be the teacher of a company’s executive leaders. “CIOs today are the primary educators of all things IT for the C-suite,” Smith writes. Of course, this means that the CIO must first educate himself or herself. It also means a CIO shouldn’t come off as an oracle talking down to executives or spewing a stream of acronyms. “The best CIO executive teachers I know are influencers—through safe conversations; vendor briefings; leading by example; and facilitating frequent meetings with staff, peers and strategic leaders,” writes Smith. “They enjoy sharing information and learning.”

While the trends of social, mobile and cloud computing open new possibilities for technology capabilities, there are serious concerns that must be addressed. Primary among those concerns are security. Regarding cloud security, Smith writes, “Pay attention to security. I’ve doubled down on new minted security policies, incident response plans, and the overall approach to content filtering and DLP software. Security and integration will be a major focus for CIOs for the coming decade as a result of the shift into the cloud.”

The rise of BYOD and consumer-driven device selection also holds risks, as well as opportunities. While the BYOD trend has become a reality in many companies, Smith notes, “It’s a challenge that adds risk and, in many cases, costs to an organization’s IT governance and overall management of technology.” The same is true for the rise of social networks.

CIOs and tech leaders would do well to spend a couple of hours with Smith’s book to help them plan their careers and their company’s technology-driven business strategy. If you do, you’ll discover they are hours well spent.

Books for CIOs
Straight to the Top: CIO Leadership in a Mobile, Social, and Cloud-based World
(Second Edition)
Gregory S. Smith
John Wiley & Sons, 2013

About the Author

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC Week) from 1996-2008, authors a blog for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm that may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made. 

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