“The CIO role today is a board-level position,” said Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, “and it’s at the heart of the organization.”
Robbins was speaking at CIO Exchange, which brought 45 of the world’s most forward-thinking and innovative CIOs to La Jolla, Calif., October 18-20, 2017. The goal was to illuminate the challenges and opportunities for CIOs in this increasingly critical role.
Produced by Cisco, and hosted by Robbins and Guillermo Diaz Jr., senior vice president and CIO of Cisco, CIO Exchange resulted in expansive conversations around top-of-mind topics, including talent, security and artificial intelligence.
But a lineup of experts also covered the forces that make CIOs think differently about their jobs, such as the economic landscape, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and digital disruption. Besides Cisco’s Robbins and Diaz, other speakers included:
- Ash Carter, U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2016-2017
- Pedro Domingos, author of The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World—cited by Bill Gates as one of the top books on AI and machine learning
- Bob Myers, General Manager of the Golden State Warriors
All of these conversations folded into the theme of this year's event: Today’s CIO: New World, New Rules, New Game.
Here are seven of the biggest takeaways for CIOs from the three-day event:
1. Keep transforming: The transformation of business and IT is ongoing. Organizations are not in the middle of a transformation that has a clear endpoint—it is part of everything they do, and the world they live in.
2. Avoid fatal mistakes: Not too long ago, the saying was ‘fail fast.’ But in this time of transformation, ideas and beliefs have changed. Now the belief is ‘Mistakes will matter.’
The issue is not whether companies will make mistakes; they can still take risks and learn from the resulting experiences. But we can’t encourage carelessness or recklessness that leads to fatal mistakes. An example of a fatal mistake is focusing so much on the present, or too far into the future, that you don’t notice what is right around the corner. That wrong focus can result in significant, non-recoverable strategic errors.
3. Address AI early: We are in the very early stages of Artificial Intelligence. And in ten years, as algorithms mature, we may see big advances such as a home robot that does it all: cooking, cleaning, and watching the kid. AI may even lead to the cure for cancer.
“If we succeed, this will be the most important technology in history,” Domingos told the group.
This potential for big leaps forward means ignoring AI could constitute a fatal mistake.
4. Mind the IT talent gap: According to a recent study by Cisco of 400 senior executives (186 of whom were CIOs) from around the globe, 94% agreed that there is an IT talent gap in supporting their business transformation.
Despite the ever-accelerating rate of technology change, the biggest gaps aren’t in technical skills, but business skills.
Eighty-four percent say the talent shortages are in areas like business acumen, professional and soft skills, including critical thinking and complex problem solving.
CIOs at the Exchange event also realized that a talented workforce must be planned. CIOs have to be maniacal about identifying and securing talent. They must create a talent strategy that maps to their overall business strategy.
CIOs must create a talent strategy that maps to their overall business strategy.5. Take action in STEM: The US educational system is not meeting IT workforce needs. Today, women outnumber men in college two-to-one. And four years ago, kindergarten classes in the United States were majority minority for the first time in US history. According to these stats, it means the US has nine years to attract women and underrepresented minorities to IT and STEM fields. If that doesn’t happen, IT will suffer severely.
6. Balance technology and business: Technology is changing exponentially, but organizations are changing much slower. This is because there are legacy systems and processes coupled with fear and resistance within an organization. But CIO’s shouldn’t over-rotate and focus too much on the showy technology. They will end up neglecting the core business.
7. Leadership: Some things you just don’t change. The role of the CIO is rapidly changing to keep up with the ever-changing business landscape. CIOs face new business models, new technologies and new ways of running IT. However, some aspects of the job just don’t change, because that’s who CIOs are—leaders who must conduct themselves with dignity and honor.