The CIO and the Digital Revolution: Notes from the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium

Every so often, it’s important to shake up your thinking by spending a day listening to some really smart people share their ideas.  Last week I attended the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, where approximately 700 senior information technology leaders, academics and other business execs met to discuss the state of IT in the digital revolution.

In order of importance, I’ve listed some takeaways from the sessions:

 “IT doesn’t support the business; it is the business”
This was one of many great quotes from Adriana Karaboutis, the Dell CIO, and a sentiment reiterated throughout the day. IT needs to be better aligned with business. However, this need for alignment seems to be still fairly aspirational in a business world where silos still exist.  Hopefully, this aspirational thinking is a sign of things to come. Meanwhile, another key buzzword was “agility.” (One panelist said, “Agile is the new cloud for IT.”) One panelist also stated IT needs to move from being known as “Dr. No” to “Dr. Know.”

Align around the outcome – which is the customer
Whether it is big data, information management, security, or any other tech topic, a clear refrain was heard at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: the customer is the center of everything we do. Therefore, new technology should help meet our business goals by better serving customers. This focus around the customer seems simplistic, but it really is vital in an era when differentiating a product or service often comes down to how customers perceive your brand and the service you offer.  This was a strong point of the Big Data panel, where panelists agreed that the term “big data” isn’t particularly useful, and that instead, we should focus on the business goals and value that can be derived from using this data correctly.  Businesses shouldn’t focus on a particular technology but instead on specific problems and outcomes they want to address.

Fear of digital disruption is overtaking fear of failure
One interesting phobia that was present was that increasingly, business and IT leaders are fearing digital disruption.  In the past few years, IT leaders balanced the potential upside of new technology with the fear of failure around trying something new. However, those same leaders are now balancing fear of digital disruption with the fear of failure. One example cited was that CIOs are more willing to invest in new technologies out of fear of being “Target-ed” – as in what happened to retailer Target with last holiday season’s security breach, the consequences of which are still not yet fully felt.

Entering a second machine age about the control system; embrace it!
Erik Brynjolfsson from MIT Sloan had a great talk about how the first machine age was about power systems (how to move atoms) and now we are on to the second machine age, which is about the control system (where to place the atoms). Entire industries are getting upended. (Wearable technology will upend healthcare, and Dr. Watson may become our family doctor.) Resistance is futile, said the professor, so you can either worry about these changes and resist what’s happening, or you can embrace them and enjoy all that becomes possible.

There’s lots of opportunity, if you’re willing to take it
Universally, the perception was that there’s lots of room for more innovation in this second machine age. Dell’s Karaboutis echoed that sentiment when she said, “Data is the new currency in the digital world.” I also observed this in the MIT Forum’s “Innovation Showcase,” where there were a bunch of vendors (companies like CloudPhysics, Cambridge Semantics, Luminoso, and RapidMiner to name a few) showing off new ways to capture and gain value from information.

Overall, the MIT CIO Symposium was an excellent event – well run, with great insights and inspiration for IT and business leaders alike. I came away excited about the years ahead for our industry, and for what we are doing here at DataGravity. There is clearly a huge opportunity in front of us, and empowering IT with better tools to support the business and their ultimate goals should align well with the challenges the CIOs at this event discussed.

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Jeff Boehm

Jeff Boehm

Jeff Boehm was the vice president of marketing at DataGravity for 2 years. Jeff brought more than 20 years of experience with a rare combination of marketing skills, organizational leadership and technical background to DataGravity, having shaped the BI and search markets working for industry pioneers and disrupters.