Do CIOs Need Passion To Succeed? Analysts Debate

You probably wouldn't be surprised to find the words "passion", "emotion" and "sexy" in a Valentine's Day card this week, but would you have imagined that they would be the topic of our most recent CXOTalk show? (On a side note, even more surprising may have been the outfit that my co-host, Michael Krigsman, donned for this special episode... You need to see it to believe it!)

Joined by three of the smartest and brightest analysts in the world - R "Ray" Wang of Constellation Research, Esteban Kolsky of thinkJar and Louis Columbus of Plex Systems (and one of my favorite Forbes technology contributors) - we debated the topic of how to move enterprise software from boring to sexy. For a conversation that was definitely far from boring, and ranged from combative to comical, one fact that these all-star analysts agreed upon is that for 2014 digital is leading the current change in technology and smart CIOs will realize it and make it part of their strategy.

This is a very exciting time for enterprise software because for the first time in its history customer responsiveness is important and achievable with digital technologies. Strong, responsive, high-energy, customer-focused service is what delivers value and makes a company sexy and this is being enabled by the digital transformation. What's more is that all the data inside these systems is now being made available to give business new insights.

Here are 5 hot themes for 2014 that CIOs will want to keep in mind as they head into the age of digital:

1. All great things are accomplished with passion - Columbus feels that passion is incredibly powerful and says if you can align someone's personal goals with the company goals, you are golden. "Technology becomes the enabler of aligning people with their passions, and the best companies and best leaders find the intersection of what someone is best at and what has the greatest opportunity to deliver value to the company," says Columbus. He adds that the CEO needs to be the servant to everyone in the company to enable passion and what separates great leaders from the rest, is to know how to unleash great passion for the company goals.

To put it lightly, Kolsky is not sold on the idea of bringing emotions into business and he challenged the other analysts to point to a company where everyone is passionate about delivering great products and service. He argues that the only time a consumer shows passion is when they hate a company. He does agree that if passion has a place anywhere, it's at the CXO level, because passion enables leaders to drive change faster.

Wang feels that passion is the catalyst for transformation and that digital is getting people excited about making a change. He says there is a need to find leaders that are passionate to help drive change and agrees with Kolsky that passion applies at the CXO level and says that companies need to ask how they can create the process to make passion happen. "If we could just get 20% of the workforce to have it, maybe they would infect others?" he points out.

One thing they all agree on is that the companies that have passion are "kicking butt right now". "Look at the Partner Ecosystem at Dreamforce," says Columbus, "They are running on passion, not dollars." Great examples of companies that come to my mind for sparking passion through an emphasis on corporate culture are Netflix and HubSpot.

2. The best CIOs are the business strategists - Columbus says the highest paid and best CIOs are focusing on developing a robust strategy to grow their business and he points to Intel CIO, Kim Stevenson as a case in point. They way Stevenson aligns her priorities to the business strategies of the company going forward has enabled Intel to revolutionize themselves into entirely new businesses. The CIOs of today want to be the CEOs of tomorrow and to do that they need to become business strategists. Those companies that can bring the customer directly into the purchasing process show the greatest potential for growth because they realize that people are driving the digital transformation. "If you can engage and show the value of people, I think that retains the value of the software as well," Columbus adds.

3. Job titles and responsibilities are changing - In the world of enterprise software CEOs are becoming CDOs, CIOs are becoming marketers and CIOs are doing the CMO job. The people in those jobs are trying to figure out the best way to change and they realize that the rules don't apply anymore. Traditional roles are being converged because the business requirements are changing and the people with passion are taking up other roles to adapt to the changing business needs.

Klosky says we need to transform the business to adapt to society or we will die. It's not about technology, but about changing the business to reflect the way the world is moving. Perhaps this is the reason for the rise of the CDO role? "The bottom line that every executive needs to understand is that the business needs to transform to adapt to society, marketplace and workplace changes, whether they want it or not," says Kolsky. And if this means changing roles, then so be it.

4. We have to learn how to scale - Columbus says that to scale a business you need intelligent people, who are motivated over the long term. He makes reference to Dan Pink's book, Drive, which brings up the fact that even in third world nations; ownership wins out over money in importance to people. Therefore, if you are going to scale an intelligence-based business, there is a real need to deal with fluffy issues like passion and emotional engagement. "Companies have to earn the right to sell again, that is why customer relationships are so important," says Columbus.

5. Get your head into the cloud - Kolsky says the "private cloud is a crowd" and that cloud should only be open. "Private cloud is a CIOs way of saying they are addressing a problem that they are not really addressing," says Kolsky. Columbus says the cloud, which is all about speed, agility and aligning IT assets to business strategy, becomes relevant when it becomes responsive to business needs. Wang sees cloud as being one piece of many pieces as we go digital - how it interfaces with mobile, what it does with social and what you can do with cloud and big data.

Well, I'm not sure if our show solved the dilemma of how to make enterprise software sexy, we may need to call on Cupid for some help with that one, but one thing is for sure, when it comes to passion for all things technology, these three guys have it! The bottom line for C-level executives is that the ones that sizzle with passion will drive the digital change faster and put their companies on top.

We wrapped up our show by asking our three analysts to give is their top 3 tech spend priorities for CIOs for the next 2 years. Here's what they had to say:

  • Columbus: 1. Analytics, 2. Cloud- based technology, and 3. Security
  • Wang: 1. Analytics, 2. Helping IT professionals understand business, and 3. Building back your own App-Dev shop
  • Kolsky: 1. Commoditized cloud, 2. An outcome-based approach to invest in data and analytics, and 3. Creating an infrastructure to allow people to build their own experiences to transform the business

You can watch the full interview with our All-Star Analysts here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.

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