10 Characteristics of Extraordinary CIOs

The importance of digital business transformation has created a real opportunity for CIOs to win CEO jobs. The role of the CIO and IT leaders has significantly changed and the demand for digital-savvy IT leaders who are able to execute the CEO's digital agenda is greater than ever before. But not all CIOs are able to drive business transformation. Only extraordinary CIOs will have the opportunity to fill future CEO positions.

Ray Wang and I recently had the privilege of interviewing five extraordinary chief information officers (CIOs) on DisrupTV, a weekly show featuring disruptive business, leadership and innovation change agents representing the Fortune 1,000, successful startups and venture capitalists.

Our most recent featured CIOs included: Kim Stevenson, corporate vice president and Chief Information Officer of Intel Corporation, Dr. David Bray, Chief Information Officer for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Mike Kail, CTO/CIO of Cybric and former CIO of Yahoo and Netflix, Miguel Gamino, CIO of City of San Francisco and Tim Crawford, Internationally renowened CIO thought leader at AVOA and former CIO of Stanford University. I encourage you to research the bios of these 5 extraordinary CIOs, and to follow their journey on Twitter, in order to fully appreciate their past achievements and forward looking vision as it relates to digital business transformation and the changing role of IT and CIOs. These CIOs are among the 100 most social CIOs on Twitter.

What do these extraordinary CIOs have in common? For one thing, all of them are proven leaders in terms of driving digital business transformation. They all have large scale IT leadership experience across multiple industries. But, more importantly, they share common characteristics that is uniquely visible in innovative, digital savvy CIOs as compared to traditional IT leaders.

Based on our recent interviews, and in some cases, my own personal experience based on opportunities to co-present at conferences (Dr. Bray and Stevenson), I have identified these 10 common characteristics of these brilliant CIOs, which hopefully can serve as guiding principles for all CIOs and IT organizational leaders.

1. Strong business acumen

Stevenson believes that every company, in every industry, will be disrupted by technology. Stevenson also believes that there are no IT projects, only business projects.

To foster business collaboration and alignment with IT, Stevenson and her team publish an annual state of IT report. The report shares what IT services the organization had delivered in the prior year, and the value that they delivered to Intel. The report also focuses on future IT priorities and market trends. The theme of the 2016 report was from the backroom to the boardroom. Stevenson and her team clearly articulate their IT vision and align their goals to business results and outcomes.

Kail has led IT organizations at Yahoo and Netflix, demonstrating the ability to meet very large scale business demands that require technology at the very highest limits of innovation. Today, Kail is developing innovation to shift business leaders from a reactive mode to a more proactive mindset in the space of cybersecurity. Today, security is no longer a CIO or CEO level topic, it is now a boardroom level topic and a brand issue.

Miguel Gamino is the CIO of City of San Francisco, leading over 200 IT professionals with a city-wide annual technology expenditure of $250 million, serving over 805,000 citizens. Miguel work with an incredibly innovative Mayor, in a city at the center of technology universe. He and his team work very closely with numerous stakeholders to achieve city-wide benefits in terms of connectivity, economic, community, and quality of life improvements.

Tim Crawford spent more than 20 years leading IT organizations during the course of his career. Today, Crawford believes that experience can actually be a hindrance for CIOs. Crawford encourages CIOs to take a fresh perspective to business and technology models by being open to new ideas and learning. Crawford warns CIOs to be aware of business disruption based on the inability of average of CIOs to tackle data sciences, IoT and machine learning and the need for application integration with other lines-of-business outside of IT.
Crawford notes that CIOs must be able to articulate their company objectives and align their IT vision to business and financial outcomes.

2. Early adopters of technology

There is no question that visionary and innovative CIOs are early adopters of technology. Innovative CIOs have adopted a beginner's mindset - open, flexible, curious, adaptive and willing to experiment. To avoid disruption and loss of business relevance, innovative CIOs, unlike traditional CIOs, are willing to invest time and energy to study emerging technologies. To be afforded the luxury of keeping pace with the latest bleeding-edge technologies, these CIOs have established a long track record of demonstrating operational excellence and ability to meet or exceed customer expectations. They have earned the trust of the peers and stakeholders.

Crawford believes that all CIOs and IT leaders are very smart but stuck in terms of gaining momentum within their businesses to drive real digital transformation. These IT leaders are heavily overwhelmed with legacy debt, pace of innovation, and cultural challenges that are resistant to change. Where to get started is the real challenge.

Crawford encourages CIOs not to rest on their laurels. Do not view cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data technologies as FAD - if you ignore emerging technologies, you will be run over and potentially lose your job. Allow your staff to experiment and stay ahead of the technology adoption curve.

3. Customer success focused

Stevenson believes that business leaders want to partner to partner with IT organizations. Stevenson believes that 'shadow IT' is the wrong view - Stevenson embraces the opportunities to collaborate with different lines of business. Stevenson leads a 6,000 member IT organization with a culture that places that customer at the center of every decision that they make.

Gamino and his team recognize the decisions that his team makes around technology will have significant impact for many generations to come for citizen of San Francisco. There is an intense amount of urgency behind Gamio's work and strong bias for driving immediate results.

Crawford recommends IT leaders to focus on iterative processes that can drive quick wins to help improve customer success and business outcomes. Just start small, continue to experiment and communicate your goals by collaborating with your customers, peers and key stakeholders.

Dr. Bray has transformed what was a legacy IT organization at the FCC to a cloud-first and highly modern IT department. The motivation behind this transformation was to improve the FCC's ability to better serve their customers - better quality, more scalable, secure, automated and faster products and services delivery models.

4. Servant leadership

Dr. Bray has created a culture of empowerment and change agents. Dr. Bray has been rewarding creative problem solvers. He actively seeks feedback and works very hard to build consensus. He creates very inspiring narratives and promotes change agents to dare to think different.
Dr. Bray's favorite question to ask his team is 'what brings you joy?' As a CIO, Dr. Bray believes that 80% of being a CIO is about people and 20% about technology. Go beyond your job description, be a leader, be more agile, more resilient and more efficient in how you manage your business.

5. Highly social and collaborative

All of these extraordinary CIOs are highly social business executives. They are daily users of Twitter, they blog, speak at conferences, mentor other CIOs and business leaders and are super accessible within their businesses. In addition to being active on social networks, these CIOs are also focused no ensuring their customers (or employees) are able to leverage technology to improve communication and collaboration. Stevenson, Dr. Bray, Kail, Gamino and Crawford are amongst the most social CIOs in the world.

When Stevenson started her career, the CIO was judged by how PCs worked. Today, CIOs are judged by how employees can be more productive. Employee communication and collaboration technologies is a measure of CIOs ability to create a culture of connectivity, productivity and seamless collaboration. Stevenson and her team leverage innovation to improve employee meetings and peer-to-peer collaboration. Improving employee communication and productivity is a CIO brand builder according to Stevenson.

Dr. Bray is one of the most social CIOs in the world. He actively engages with a broader community, sharing his views on innovation, leadership, business culture and the importance of being a change agent. Bray became social because he wanted to blow up the mental image of a typical CIO that was not accessible and willing to share ideas. The second reason Dr. Bray embraced social networking was to address any blind-spots by leveraging a personalized learning network to unlearn the old and learn the new.

Miguel Gamino is one of the most social government CIOs, actively engaging with San Francisco citizens and business leaders to share IT project updates and future vision. Gamino holds quarterly town hall meetings and invites tough questions, cultivating a culture of transparency and giving.

6. Discovery mindset

Dr. Bray transitioned an 100% on premise IT organization to a cloud-first IT department in less than 12 months. Gamino and his IT department is challenging his team to deliver solutions by implementing agile development processes and user centric design methods. San Francisco stakeholders are expecting rapid innovation and Gamino is developing a 'digital by default' mentality that is driving results. Gamino is encouraging his team to explore new ways of being ultra-responsive and results oriented. Dr. Bray and all of the CIOs mentioned here encourage their teams to be explorers.

Crawford advises CIOs and IT leaders to adopt an experimental mindset, where through a discovery process, organizations can take small steps towards delivering solutions and build positive, forward momentum.

Kail is helping CEOs become involved in understanding their company's secure posture and risks by encouraging them to proactively explore opportunities to build a more secure and robust businesses.

7. Cause driven

For most of Stevenson's career, she was the only women on the team. Today, half of Stevenson's staff are women. Stevenson actively promotes the importance of having more women in the technology industry. Stevenson was recognized by STEMconnector as 100 Diverse Corporate Leader, who is actively contributing to incorporate more diverse STEM professionals and changing the pipeline based on strong STEM education.

Dr. Bray has travelled the world as an Eisenhower Fellow to identify opportunities where technology and innovation can help improve the state of society. Dr. Bray promotes leaders to think about how they can positively impact their communities locally, which will ultimately lead to global benefits.

Empowering change agents starts by creating a space where like-minded and inspired individuals can network together and share success stories, failures and lessons learned. Creative brainstorming events allow people to self-organize and scale their voice and ambitions to transform at both individual and organizational levels.

Miguel Gamino uses a methodology called 'Skunk Works' to rapidly develop new digital services to advance the community. Gamino's cause-driven culture has shifted the mentality of defaulting to 'no' to a mindset that is highly collaborative and supportive of making big bets and delivering solutions that most would consider impossible. Gamino is inspiring his team to be bold and aspirational.

8.Result oriented

Stevenson encourages business leaders to be more demanding of IT and CIOs. Stevenson and her team leverages modern predictive analytics to better optimize workflows and IT services and solutions. Time-to-market (TTM) is key performance metric for Intel - to that end, Stevenson and her team studied and diagnosed their entire design flow methodology, in order to optimize execution velocity. In some cases, the results yielded a 15-week TTM improvements.

Kail notes that 1 million cybersecurity jobs went unfilled in 2015. In order to derive better results, Kail doesn't believe that companies can throw more people at the problem space, instead, the real answer to automation, orchestration and use of more intelligent tools and technologies.

Miguel Gamino's town hall meetings is a wonderful example of sharing project deadlines, achievements and obstacles in a public setting. The level of accountability, transparency and togetherness has created an environment of mutual trust, respect and caring.

Crawford encourages IT leaders to start out small, instead of trying to boil the ocean, and build momentum by driving results. Crawford believes that CIOs must ensure that employees feel that they are part of the process. An inclusive process is important but the CIO and executive commitment and buy-in is key to success.

9. Bold and confident

Dr. Bray was able to move a massive amount of on premise solutions (200+ servers with 400 terabytes of data) to the cloud in less than 12 months. Dr. Bray retried hundreds of servers and significantly reduced his overall IT budget. Dr. Bray is a super change agent.

Miguel Gamino is leveraging user centric design methodology to deliver big, sophisticated digital projects in 30 days. Gamino and his team have developed a reputation of being reliable, fast and eager to help San Francisco become role model city for innovation and digital transformation.

10. Player coaches and mentors

All of these CIOs work very hard to actively work with their teams to achieve results. By being social and collaborative, they create a welcoming environment, where single contributors at all levels of the organization feel safe enough to share their ideas and recommendations. Gamino and the other CIOs are creating a strong culture of accountability and togetherness, aimed at continuous improvements and increased customer satisfaction and growth.

Tim Crawford best exemplifies a former CIO who is now coaching other successful CIO achieve their departmental and business objectives. Crawford has a wonderful reputation of connecting like-minded CIOs and serving as the network-glue for a highly influential network of digital savvy CIOs.

Crawford encourages CIOs and IT leaders to focus on building business alignment. The language of business is finance, so IT leaders must be to communicate their technology vision and investment thesis to financial outcomes and company objectives.

I strongly encourage you to follow these 5 extraordinary CIOs on Twitter, their blog sites and other social networks. To learn more, please watch these short video interviews of our featured CIOs. You will find extraordinary insights and recommendations from our five featured CIOs that you can take back to the office as you help champion digital business transformation.

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