Who Says CIOs Aren't Business Savvy?


By Eileen Feretic

In my 30 years covering the IT industry, I've read a lot of stories claiming that CIOs and other IT leaders have no business savvy.  They are techies, the critics always claim, and they don't understand how the business works.

I've never believed that, and, through the years, I've met hundreds of IT leaders who have a comprehensive understanding of how the various departments in their company operate. After all, these technology executives work with and support all those departments on a daily basis, so they clearly know the people, systems and processes involved—probably better than most other executives in the company do.

Recently, I spent some time with another CIO who exemplifies an IT leader who is also a business leader. Her name is Kim Stevenson, and she's the CIO of Intel. From Kim's comments, it's clear that she understands that the purpose of technology is to support and promote the business.

For example, Kim explained that she uses the cloud for business applications that need to be provisioned quickly in order to reduce cycle times and get products to market faster. However, she said that she would not put the company's intellectual property in the cloud because it needs to be protected. The CIO pointed out that IT executives and professionals need to participate with the business, to be in tune with its culture and language, and she stressed how essential the IT-business relationship is.

And that relationship extends beyond the boundaries of Intel to its business partners.  Kim gave an example of working with a channel partner to find a successful way to market mobile devices. The result? The revenue for the account went up by five times in the first quarter.

Kim is also involved with personnel issues: She talked about the need for skills in areas such as cloud, big data and Hadoop, among other technologies. She understands the importance of promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to keep filling the pipeline of IT professionals and to bring more young women into the industry.

One of Kim's last comments was, "You need to take ownership of what you have to do to make things work."  She certainly does.

It's refreshing—but not unusual—to meet an IT leader as business oriented as Kim Stevenson is. In fact, it's people like her who make my job so interesting.