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5 CIO trends channel partners should watch

Channel partners should recognize that "keeping the lights on" is no longer a CIO's primary responsibility, writes Jeff Jackson of Ingram Micro.

If you've had the sense lately the ground is shifting under your feet, there is a good reason for that: It is. One of your key customers, the CIO, has overseen the purchase and implementation of hardware and software to "keep the lights on," but that is no longer his or her primary responsibility. Based on my many years of experience with CIOs in the IT channel, I've identified the following five CIO trends that today's channel partner leaders must keep tabs on for success:

1. IT outcomes emerge front and center

The new role of the CIO is less concerned with day-to-day operations; his or her staff -- or team in the case of the IT channel partner -- can handle tasks related to the implementation, administration and maintenance of IT. Rather, today's CIO has evolved into a strategic thinker with a solid grasp of business and finance. His or her actions -- and the actions of the firm – are directly linked to the company's profitability, and their outcome is judged by the resulting financial wins and losses. This outcome-driven orientation means channel partners must take a more strategic view when selling to the CIO.

2: Business and IT alignment now crucial

A CIO doesn't necessarily know -- or need to know -- the specific components that make up the company's infrastructure. Whether VMware powers the virtual network and Cisco supplies the underlying infrastructure is immaterial. What matters is how the technology supports the business goals now and in the future. The rest falls into place. Case in point: I was speaking recently with a CIO of a $2 billion manufacturing company. It turns out that not only did he not know how or through whom his company fulfills IT products, but he also was not the least bit concerned with the particulars of what hardware or software is running anywhere in its massive environment of over 6,000 users worldwide. His top priority was the business outcome. That's why channel partners should focus on consultative selling and the CIO client's business objectives, rather than "speeds and feeds."

 3. Financial role gains prominence

As service providers, you can alleviate much of the pain the CIO faces by becoming a strategic advisor.
Jeff JacksonField technical consultant, Ingram Micro

With an MBA in finance, this CIO bases most all of his IT decisions on whether they're bound to save or make money. His background isn't IT and his strengths don't lie with drawing network diagrams or fixing PCs -- and they shouldn't. He gets the job done by meeting the company's goals and understanding the math. In his view, all CIOs should have a healthy level of financial expertise, and after hearing his reasoning, I would agree. Accordingly, a channel partner must develop a solid business case for the products and services they intend to sell.

4. Collecting and acting upon data become key capabilities

We live in a heavily regulated and data-intense world, and a lot of the accountability lies within IT. Much like a CFO manages a company's money, the CIO is responsible for data and how it helps shape the company's future. This responsibility will prove especially critical as organizations start to invest in the Internet of Things, in which monitoring and communication between multiple devices produce actionable data to drive innovation and improve service. In this uber-connected world, CIOs will need to master their ability to collect, analyze and act on data so they can make decisions to drive profitability. The channel partner, as trusted advisor, is in a great position to support the CIO as he or she takes on those data tasks.

5. The buck stops with the CIO

The role of the CIO is changing to one in which the underlying technology and how it is acquired matters less, and the impact of technology on business matters more. And in the end, no matter who made the purchasing decision -- IT, marketing, sales or all three -- IT is the one who is on the hook and has to make sense of the issue if it doesn't work.

With all these CIO trends moving in real time, and reliance on IT growing, it's no wonder the role of any CIO is stressed and evolving. As service providers, you can alleviate much of the pain the CIO faces by becoming a strategic advisor. In smaller companies, you can take on the role of a virtual CIO and work in conjunction with peers to use technology to build advantages and solve for the right business outcome.

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