A Lifeline For CIOs, The Toughest Job In IT
February 24, 2020 Alex Woodie
Let’s hear it for chief information officers, who have the toughest jobs in IT. If you’re good enough and lucky enough to succeed with your initiatives, you get to keep your job another year. But if the plans fall through, then you’re out on the curb. It’s a lonely job, but thanks to the CIO Summit event that Alan Seiden puts on with System i Developer, the CIOs at IBM i shops at least have a lifeline for support.
Research shows that CIOs have among the shortest tenures of any position in the C-suite. The management consulting firm Korn Ferry recently found that the average CIO lasts 4.6 years at his or her job. That compares to an average of 4.7 years for the CFO and 6.9 years for CEOs. The CMO, however, has the shortest tenure at just 3.5 years.
CIOs at IBM i shops have the added burden of figuring out how to navigate through a complex web of technologies and personas. They must thread the needle in linking the past (heritage IBM i applications) with the future (cloud, mobile, and AI) of technology, while building and maintaining relationships between the IT department and the line of business. With so many hands in the IT pot these days (including those CMOs with their off-the-book cloud apps), it’s no wonder the CIO suite often resembles a revolving door.
That’s one of the reasons that Seiden created the CIO Summit several years ago: to help CIOs understand the challenges they face and give them tools to address them. As word starts to get out about the CIO Summit, others become aware of the support it offers to CIOs on the hot seat.
“It’s reassuring to know that they’re not alone and there’s a community supporting them,” Seiden tells IT Jungle. “The feedback we get is that people felt great knowing that other companies had the same questions. They can help each other, not only with specific concrete solutions, but to know they have other friends they can talk to, when they need to talk to somebody.”
The next CIO Summit will be held on March 23 and 24 in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the RPG & DB2 Summit, which takes place March 24 through March 26. The CIO Summit, which is hosted by Seiden Group, will feature several guest speakers, including Alison Butterill, IBM’s offering manager for IBM i; Scott Forstie, the business architect for Db2 on it; and Heidi Schmidt, the managing partner at PKS Software GmbH.
As in past years, the invitation-only event will feature 15 or so CIOs from IBM i shops around the world, who will gather in an intimate setting to learn not only about the latest IBM i technologies from the experts, but to learn about some of the more intangible aspects of succeeding at the CIO job from their peers, such as communicating with others and building relationships. That’s a big part of the CIO Summit event, even it can’t be scripted, Seiden says.
“This is very different from the usual focus on strictly technology, that we also address how to work better with the business,” Seiden says. “It’s about relationships as well. We’re an industry of introverts and sometimes we need to share the skills that are needed to communicate with those people.”
For example, one of the best pieces of advice that Seiden has taken away from a CIO Summit is the importance of maintaining communication between the IT department and the line of business. One of the best ways to foster an open dialog is to have a daily meeting where the CIO can share information about what they’re doing, Seiden says. Another common technique is to have open houses, where line of business folks can ask questions about IT department projects, and vice versa.
“IT can get so busy making small improvements and fixes that business asks for that they sometimes don’t have time for the larger initiatives. So the business needs to know that IT is there ready to support these larger initiatives and transformations,” Seiden says. “If you can’t get the buy-in and have a good relationship with the business, you can’t make progress technologically.”
Several CIOs and other senior IT executives (it’s not exclusive to those with “CIO” in their title) who have attended have been promoted based on what they learned at the CIO Summit and applied back in their companies, Seiden says.
“I’ve heard several success stories of relationships being improved . . . and the careers that are improved,” he says. “The folks who came to the CIO Summit sometimes came back and say I got a promotion from what I learned at the CIO Summit.”
Building relationships and managing personas are important aspects of the CIO job, and they’re covered at the CIO Summit. That’s not to say that technology is not a major topic at the event. It is, and the event covers some of the most compelling technology decisions that CIOs face today, including how to establish a modernization strategy, how to assess the right technologies and tools for enacting that strategy (including open source options like Node.js, Python, and PHP), and how to get started with modernization projects.
Digital transformation is on the minds of practically every CIO in every industry these days. For those CIOs plying the IBM i waters, the path can be a little trickier just by virtue of the database and application server they’re running – and the CIO Summit once again can provide a life raft to keep CIOs from going under.
“IBM i as a platform can be so self-sufficient and self-managing that often it can be taken for granted,” Seiden says. “And IT can be taken for granted very easily, so we help build a bridge between IT and business. This is an important topic.”
Another important topic covered at CIO Summit is simply reassuring CIOs that the IBM i is a viable platform. This is a question that lingers a bit longer with those who lack the familiarity with the platform (perhaps the younger tech executives). The CIO Summit provides a great place for those folks to hear directly from others who have more experience with it.
“Some guests come to the CIO Summit and aren’t sure about the IBM i platform. But they leave feeling more confident that the platform is viable. They might not tell us that, but we hear it through the grapevine,” Seiden says. “The guests who come to the CIO Summit are interested to see what can be done with the system. They might not be 100 percent confident in the IBM i system, but they want to learn what they can, and do the best they can in making a decision.”
As IT budgets expand, there’s more pressure on CIOs to leverage new technology to not only cut costs, but grow the business. For CIOs at IBM i shops, there are certain well-worn paths that others have followed to find success in digital transformation and modernization initiatives, and other paths that have led to failure. Hearing about these paths directly from one’s peers is an invaluable experience, and if luck is on his side, that’s the sort of magic that Seiden will be conjuring up down in Dallas at the next CIO Summit next month.
There are several open slots remaining for the next CIO Summit. You can request an invitation by visiting the Seiden Group website. The event is free, but attendees must cover their own travel and hotel costs. The second day of the event includes an open pass to the RPG & DB2 Summit. There is also a discount available for CIO Summit attendees to attend the RPG & DB2 Summit, which the CIO can use or give to their developers.