Veteran CIO To MES West Attendees: 'If You're A Pure IT Person, You're A Dinosaur'

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A veteran CIO delivered the opening keynote Sunday at The Channel Company's Midsize Enterprise Summit West conference, telling a room full of senior IT leaders that their job isn't so much about administering technology as it is understanding business initiatives.

Jim Noble, who has headed IT departments at some of the world's largest corporations, told IT pros from midmarket enterprises who converged on Los Angeles for MES West that the challenges they face are common among companies big and small -- and those challenges are rapidly changing.

Noble now serves as CEO of The Advisory Council International, a nonprofit group of IT luminaries that includes more than 20 now-retired CIOs from Fortune 100 companies.

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"Your role is to understand the business imperatives and come up with quick and affordable solutions," Noble told attendees. "If you’re a pure IT person, you're a dinosaur."

Running operations in the back room is no longer a sustainable role for a modern CIO, he said. Instead, CIOs should have a trusted lieutenant overseeing infrastructure and services while they focus on keeping open lines of communication with business leaders.

In his own career, Noble has shepherded IT operations through times of great corporate upheaval. He was CIO of America Online when the company merged with Time Warner; and at Merrill Lynch during the financial meltdown of 2008.

One thing he's learned from those experiences, he said, it that business leaders don't care about the details of IT plans. They primarily just want to know how the technology will realize a core priority.

At AOL-Time Warner, for Noble's team that meant protecting the company's vast library of intellectual property. At General Motors, what was really important was building a connected car (Noble's team invented OnStar, an early foray into Internet of Things technologies).

For CIOs to succeed at that level, they must not only change their mind-set, but also their behavior and speech, becoming well-versed in business terminology, and abandoning tech jargon.

"Speak the language that your business leaders speak," Noble said, adding that doesn't mean IT pros should abandon using numbers and other metrics that keep them accountable.

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