CIOs of the Future Must Think Like Entrepreneurs
In the future, CIOs must think like entrepreneurs and learn from startups in order to stave off marginalization and shrinking budgets, Ross Dawson, a futurist and business strategist said during a presentation at a recent IBM event.

Think about Compelling, Achievable Goals

Dawson, a popular speaker and consultant, outlined his tommorow's CIO event presentation around the idea that an entrepreneurial mindset must be achieved if CIOs want to be effective leaders. This seems counter intuitive based on the constraints in place for someone like a corporate executive.

However, Dawson isn't suggesting CIOs act like startup leaders, just that they use some of the same overall strategies of iteration and achieving a strategic perspective. Part of the reason for this is CIOs will have to be more engaging with the rest of the board, and will need to demonstrate why the changing role of IT is so central to a business.

To do this, visionary leadership is required, Dawson said, and that means CIOs need to create a compelling, achievable and realistic vision of what the CIO of the future looks like. IT isn't just a series of pipes that help a business run, he said, and CIOs need to be leading the charge against this perception in order to keep from being marginalized.

In other words, just because so much of IT is simply running existing operations, that doesn't mean CIOs shouldn't seize every opportunity they have. Sometimes that means actually having to educate the board on the role of technology and any possible strategic possibilities, Dawson said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Dawson is a believer in the lean startup idea, and it is from this movement that some of his own thoughts on the future of the CIO have sprouted. Part of the lean ethos is a rapid product development cycle, something the enterprise is of course not known for. But warming up the idea that it can be done, and is in fact good for business is something future CIOs should accept.

Lean starup loop image courtesy of Eric Ries.

Cloud as a Symbol IT Agility

One of the biggest challenges for organizations is the shift from legacy systems to more agile, integrated systems. This shift to the cloud is a potential pain point for CIOs, and the ones who are thinking most like entrepreneurs could be the ones who navigate this hurdle the best.

Enterprise software spending is static in the US, a recent Gartner report found, and cloud is one of the areas where it will do the best. Not every company is so focused on the cloud yet of course, so things like social and mobile are probably good places to start for CIOs in those companies. Opportunities for CIOs in those areas are good places to look for proving ITs worth, and in what Dawson called building an extended enterprise.

Being able to extend an enterprise's reach to suppliers and partners, for example, would be a way for CIOs to apply insights about the future to organizational strategy. Specifically, CIOs need to be enablers of having an external focus by supporting business ecosystems and managing vendor networks.

Drivers of Change + IT Functions

Dawson's presentation included a good overview of the kinds of drivers of change that are adding to IT demands even as their budgets shrink. Technological advances like more bandwidth and processing power, advances in storage and the shifting landscape of mobile are all driving changes in IT. Those changes are reflected in what demands ITs time, the kinds of roles assumed by IT, and those technological themes that drive opportunities.

Learning Opportunities

Themes like big data, IT flexibility and even openness are driving demand for responsiveness and environmental efficiency. IT is therefore expected to be not only an adviser to business that facilitates solutions, but opportunities also arise to integrate with marketing and reconfigure processes.

Unfortunately for many IT departments, they may have actually gotten too good at doing more with less. As budgets have fallen over the last decade, they seem to have been asked to actually do more work, just one part of ITs overall devaluation.

A 2012 Gartner report showed this devaluation up close, and offered a couple of ways to rediscover the value of IT. One way would be to soften the ROI approach by making room for soft technologies like social media. It can yield competitive advantage and provide valuable, actionable insight, and only defining ROI based on hard technologies might not be the best answer.

As the world becomes ever more connected, it will certainly be more exciting than ever to see how businesses respond to technological change. As one of the executives at the very center of this change, CIOs will feel every bump, hump and wiggle in the road. Tell us in the comments if you think CIOs should think more like entrepreneurs or if you favor another strategy in particular.

We've also included a brief video interview below on Dawson's future of the CIO thoughts. 

Lead image courtesy of R "Ray" Wang, Constellation Research