By Patrick K. Burke
Lindsey Anderson has been a busy man. Rounding up some of the sharpest minds in IT and academia to participate in the upcoming MIT Sloan CIO Symposium doesn’t happen in one afternoon. Anderson, who chairs the Symposium, wants to be sure attendees, speakers, volunteers and sponsors have the best possible experience at the event. Now in its 12th year, the Symposium hopes to provide leading-edge content that addresses the evolving role of the CIO. The event also provides a convenient, one-day format for peer networking.
Anderson recently took time to discuss with CIO Insight several topics that will be explored at the Symposium, such as the evolution of the CIO as business leader and how CIOs are dealing with digital disruption. Anderson also riffed on some deeper topics, such as why humans will never stop innovating and the ambiguous impact of the technological revolution.
CIO Insight: One of the themes at the upcoming MIT Sloan CIO Symposium is “inventing the future.” Speaking of the future, do you think MIT researchers from the early part of the 21st century would embrace today’s world or be disappointed by it?
Lindsey Anderson: Surprised is the first word that first comes to mind. In 2005 I believe several MIT academics were researching and writing about self-driving cars, robotics, voice recognition, AI and a number of other cutting-edge technologies, but none of them anticipated that these technologies would develop as rapidly as they have. The pace of change is unprecedented. Andy McAfee will be addressing such surprising developments in his closing, TED-style Symposium keynote, “Objects in the Future Are Closer Than They Appear.”
MIT thrives on technology but these new technologies are often a two-edged sword. Technical change can be threatening and disruptive to those who don’t have the opportunity or ability to keep pace. In their “The Second Machine Age,” perennial Symposium speakers, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andy McAfee express concerns about technological unemployment and uneven income distribution. But we’re still in the infancy of the technological revolution and I am optimistic that over time the benefits of technology will become more evenly distributed.
CIO Insight: The pace of technological change is fast and getting faster. Given enough time, will we ever reach a point where there will be no way to improve upon the latest technology? Does innovation have an endgame?
Anderson: Homo Sapiens have been on this planet for nearly 100,000 years. We’ve been innovating since the beginning and will continue to innovate until our demise. Innovation is in our DNA; it has no endgame.
In my lifetime I’ve seen the 8-track replaced by the cassette player, which was replaced by the Walkman, which was replaced by the MP3 player, which was replaced by the smartphone. I have no idea what will replace the smartphone, but I expect something will.
These are all examples of “latest technologies” that reached their improvement endpoint. But newer technologies were developed to leapfrog over the “latest technology” and thereby accelerate the pace of technological innovation. Innovation will continue until the end of time.
CIO Insight: CIOs are now tasked with more than just keeping the lights on. They are expected to deliver business value through tech innovations. Do you believe most CIOs are ready for this challenge? And what can CIOs do to prepare for this seismic shift in responsibility?
Anderson: CIOs need to evolve or perish; they must step up to the business value challenge or be replaced. The C-suite demands this because business itself is becoming more digitized. Enterprises need CIOs who can help guide digital transformations. CIOs need to develop new business models, not just new software applications.
We are already a couple of years into the evolution of the CIO, but I don’t think we’re at the point where most CIOs are ready. That’s certainly what we’re hearing from CEOs, many of who are frustrated with their CIOs.
However, I think most CIOs recognize the need to evolve and understand the challenge. Change is hard, and many CIOs will not be able to make the transition from traditional IT to business leader, the key to successfully meeting the business value challenge.
The Symposium originates from the MIT Sloan School of Management, so we place a greater emphasis on the impact technology has on management practice than we do on technology itself. To survive, CIOs need to focus more on management than technology.
This year’s Symposium theme is “Inventing Your Future.” CIOs should take this year’s theme personally. We have a number of panels that will help CIOs prepare for the seismic shift in their responsibilities:
*Demand Shaping: How IT Becomes a Distinctive Advantage
*Inventing the Digital Workplace
*Leading Digital: A Manifesto for IT and Business Executives
*Platform Shift: How New Business Models Are Changing the Shape of Industry, and the Role of CIOs
*The Board, CEO and CIO Roles in Dealing with Digital Disruption
*The Influence of Digital on CIO Leadership
CIO Insight: Who benefits more at the Symposium: academia and academic researchers or business and IT leaders?
Anderson: Both academia and the 750 senior business and IT executives who are expected to attend this year benefit from the Symposium. The CIOs and business leaders receive actionable insights enabling them to meet the challenges of today’s changing global economy, through best practices, interactive learning and thought-provoking discourse on the future of technology and business that is available only at MIT. The MIT academia receives valuable real-world feedback and hears first-hand on the issues these diverse group of CIOs, industry thought leaders and innovators are dealing with.
CIO Insight: What is most challenging about running the event?
Anderson: As the Chair of the Symposium my greatest challenge is ensuring that all our attendees, speakers, volunteers and sponsors have the best possible experience at the event. I want them to find the event intellectually stimulating and a great opportunity to network.
The hardest decision I’ve had to make for the Symposium is as a judge of the MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award. Last year I was one of the judges who had to decide the award winner amongst F. Thaddeus Arroyo, CIO of AT&T Services; Dieter Haban, CIO of Daimler Trucks North America; Adriana Karaboutis, vice president and Global CIO of Dell; Stephen C. Neff, Enterprise Chief Technology Officer of Fidelity Investments; and Rebecca Rhoads, president, Global Business Services and CIO of Raytheon Company. It was extremely difficult to choose a winner from these five extraordinary CIOs.
CIO Insight: What do you enjoy most about chairing the Symposium?
Anderson: I enjoy bringing together the academic thought leadership of MIT with the hands-on experience of leading, global CIOs. I particularly enjoy working with our academic partners, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) and the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). I’ve learned so much from these IT thought leaders.
I also greatly enjoy working with our team 40 highly engaged volunteers. Their enthusiasm and commitment is infectious.
Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight.