By Straight Talk Editors

[Read Part 1 and Part 2]

6. Understand those business buzzwords

Learning is a key to innovation. The CIOs we interviewed stressed the importance of business learning, in particular, for developing the careers and skills of IT employees. “IT people need to enmesh themselves in the area of the business where they are working and take advantage of business-related educational opportunities inside and outside the company,” Ann Alrich says. An IT employee working in supply chain management, for example, could attend a conference on that topic, she notes. Alexandre Kozlov is also adamant about the value of business education for IT but urges people to look outside their own areas: “Attending gatherings that are not directly related to your industry might even spark better ideas because you find things that people do in other industries and it may force you to think. The wider the spectrum, the better.”

But in an era of tight budgets, it’s important to get a return on the investment in outside events and training. Stephen Thurlbeck does that by requiring people to present what they learned at conferences to their teams and to use it to develop a plan for a change in the organization. Ed Jurica manages the costs of attending conferences by focusing on local events, where he sends both an IT manager and his or her business partner. “That can be cost-effective, and it can cement those relationships,” he notes.

Learning can happen in a variety of ways, including the do-it-yourself kind. At Fossil, Jurica’s IT organization put together a business conference for the entire company, in which IT employees gave presentations and demonstrations and answered questions about new tools and applications. He defrayed the cost of the conference by asking IT vendors to sponsor it. “The intent was not to use three-letter acronyms or talk about feeds and speeds but to talk about our company, what we could be doing, and to encourage discussion with our business partners,” he says. “We hoped that a couple of lightbulbs would go off and that the event would help us innovate together.”

7. Raise your visibility outside your organization

Web-native companies have broken the boundaries between the “corporation” and the outside world, allowing and even encouraging employees to be externally visible through blogs, conference presentations, interviews, and social media. That visibility goes hand in hand with communicating and promoting what the company does and what it’s all about.

This attitude is now more prevalent in traditional companies and is even changing what they used to regard as one of their most insular positions — that of the CIO. “Speaking at conferences may not necessarily be the best way to make sure that you are driving every dime you can out of your operating  budget,” says Scott Blanchette.

“But if you’re focused on things like innovation and transformation and moving the business in a different direction, I think those types of engagements are things you have to participate in to be successful.”

Of course, social media increasingly is the method of choice for raising your profile. In addition to performing his duties as CIO, Isaac Sacolick is a prolific blogger and Twitterer. “I’m not sure blogging is for every CIO,” he says, “but I think it’s important to find what’s important to you, what you are good at, and find a way to express that. In my case I do that through blogging, through the articles I tweet, or giving public presentations.”

Sacolick’s social media prowess increases not only his own visibility but also that of his company, McGraw Hill Construction. “We are not a technology business,” he explains, “but we sell technology and data to contractors and manufacturers in the construction industry — they need to understand that we develop great technology. I blog, I write articles for our magazine for construction engineers, I participate in events, I run a council for construction industry CIOs. Part of my job is to be customer facing, provide thought leadership, be outgoing and engaging with our community.”

Raising your profile outside your organization can bolster your position in it. External exposure — through an active blog or by attracting hundreds of Twitter followers — can give you newfound credibility internally, validation in the public forum that will subtly change people’s perception of you in your organization.

Furthermore, it can be easier to gain the support of those who are skeptical about IT when you meet them “off-site,” on the neutral turf of a social network. “Find content that’s relevant and valuable to a business person in your company who is negative about IT and share it with him,” Ann Alrich suggests. When you make your next IT presentation, she notes, that person may be a proponent instead of an opponent. As more and more companies infuse information technology into their product and service offerings, we could expect to see more blogging CIOs, more visible CIOs. Social media, however,  is  not  only  a  platform  for  creating  content but also a tool for filtering it and finding what’s most relevant  for  one’s  job.  LinkedIn  has  emerged  in recent years as an important source of experience-based advice and opinions, through the personal networking  it  facilitates  as  well  as  content  from established content producers.

“There’s so much that you can learn by reading the articles on LinkedIn or by searching for people who have certain characteristics in their profile,” Ann Alrich says. Social networking in business “can add a level of enrichment to a person’s professional development that they may not realize.”

Scott Blanchette also finds his LinkedIn network to be a valuable mechanism for filtering information. “It’s not just the interpersonal aspect but also the general content that tends to get socialized through the network — there are key groups, key companies, key people that I follow pretty extensively and regularly look at their circulation of relevant material.”



So that’s the consolidated view of our virtual focus group. Now, what do you think? Have we missed any items on our list of CIO must-do’s? Are there some clunkers among the items we’ve included?

Tell us. Or, rather, tell your IT peers by joining the CIO Straight Talk Interactive group and sharing your thinking with group members. Your addition to our list — a piece of wisdom hard-earned from your own experience — may end up being exactly what a fellow group member most needs.

Originally published in CIO Straight Talk, No. 4 (December 2013)