Qualities in a CIO

If you were starting a new company, what qualities would you want in your CIO?

Be engaged with the business. At Medtronic, we wanted our CIO out seeing pacemaker implants, seeing procedures, riding with salespeople. Why is that important for a CIO? Because it helps the CIO understand employees' lives. You're there to support them. That's the life of the business. How do we make it really easy for customers? If a doctor is in surgery and something's going wrong and he wants to call Medtronic for technical advice, that's an urgent thing. You've got to have a way for the surgeon to get through to a person and not go through a bureaucracy.

If I've seen a fault in my 40 years of working with my IT executives, it's that they don't engage with the business often enough. They engage with their own--they engage with IT. They have to engage with the head of sales, the head of research, the head of customer support and say, "How can I help you?" That's the level of engagement I would expect. The CIO should be part of the top executive team, but as a service provider and not just a cost center.

So getting out there and building relationships is the most important thing?

Yes. And then being creative enough to get our company to figure out how to use the existing technologies and new technologies coming along not to take the right risk for IT's sake, but to get us on the leading edge of changes in the business. If I'm a business executive and I want to blog or get into Twitter, then show me how. Make it easy for me.

The best CIOs seem to understand that, especially in this tough economy. But the business seems to have a different perception.

They can tell--is this person here to help me, or sell me something? Too many CIOs try to sell to the executive team, rather than trying to help them. If CIOs become advocates, they'll help. If they try to sell you, well, the business has gone through that before.

You can often outsource the execution more efficiently than you can do it yourself, and not have all the fixed costs in your own people, but you can't outsource the essence. You can't just bring in a consulting firm to give you a new IT strategy--you have to do that yourself. Then you can outsource. Who cares who runs the data center? It doesn't really matter. What's important is controlling the essence.

This article was originally published on 10-26-2009
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