The CIO's Path Forward

Midmarket IT leaders must change their thinking and view themselves as business innovators.

Our upcoming Midsize Enterprise Summit Spring 2019 conference centers on the path to chief business innovator. We are not looking to coin a new job title or acronym, but instead use this phrase to help today’s midmarket IT leaders see a new way of advancing their careers and organizations.

Every CIO is on a journey, whether they know it or not. It’s one that must be mapped out carefully or it could lead to dead-ends or meander endlessly to nowhere. That might be fine for some, but certainly not all.

Today’s midmarket IT leaders rose up from the ranks of tech support or IT specialists and over the years added tech certifications and business skills. In the early going, they carefully thought out the skill set needed to get promoted and aggressively pursued that path.

But once in the C-suite, or at least overseeing IT, many senior leaders get stuck. The career planning stops because they focus on getting big projects completed. It is often a feather in the cap of a midmarket IT leader to complete a major tech upgrade or cloud migration. But do these leaders look at those projects in the right way?

They consider it their top priority to keep pace with tech change and how to apply new IT solutions to their organizational infrastructure. Along the way, they must cope with the pressure associated with increased responsibility because of all the demands to deploy new tech while working on major projects for the companies. They are the people who must answer the question of which tech platform to deploy or not, or which tech supplier offers the best value.

But not all CIOs think of themselves as business innovators—and they should because it is the secret to advancement or at least getting unstuck. It also changes the way they look at tech projects. No longer is a major tech overhaul or cloud migration just a project to complete, but a business transformation that will impact sales and earnings. The CIO must adopt a CEO’s perspective to such undertakings and their potential results.

Still, senior IT leader or CIO is a tenable position, with the shortest tenure among those in the C-suite. At many organizations, CEOs and CFOs will outlast the IT leader. You wonder if that is good for any midmarket company to have that kind of turnover.  Korn Ferry puts the average CIO tenure at 4.3 years, so there is plenty of job-hopping that takes place. One reason for this is that CIOs are often the youngest in the C-suite so they are looking for promotions or pay increases their current companies cannot provide.

I would bet midmarket CIOs last longer in their position than the industry average based on our MES attendees, but they face distinct challenges in holding on to their office vs. their enterprise counterparts.

First is the competition for IT talent.

It’s fierce these days as growing midmarket companies look to lure tech talent. Boards and CEOs of midmarket companies understand that technology is their competitive differentiator. So, if an IT leader has built an industry brand or significant accomplishments, rival organizations are likely to take note or a head-hunter will in hopes of placing them someplace new.

But this is not going to happen unless the IT leader is positioned as a business innovator, not just a tech innovator. With CIOs pulling down average salaries of $175,000 to $279,000, no CEO is going to write a check to attract a nerd. That CEO wants a tech-savvy business innovator who can help solve the company’s biggest business challenges.

The bottom line is that while there is still lots of talk about digital transformation, the real transformation should be in how midmarket CIOs view their roles to evolve as business innovators.

If you are interested in joining this conversation live at MES Spring, register now for the May 5-7 event in Orlando.