If you want to excel as a tech exec, go out and run a business -- or get your place of employment to put you in charge of one."Anybody who has the opportunity to run a business -- you will view the world differently," says Jon Stevens, CIO of CDW, the well-known vendor of IT products and services.
Stevens should know. He joined CDW in 2001 as VP of IT. He was named CIO and appointed to the executive committee in 2002. From 2005 to 2006 Stevens was CDW's VP, international, in charge of the company's global strategy, and as part of that he ran its Canadian subsidiary. He says it was an invaluable experience for him as a CIO.
"You get a good idea of what will work for your customer base and what won't work," he says. "Having a first-hand experience running a business at CDW has helped me connect the dots on how we can drive our customer contact, our business, and our results."
Stevens, who reports to CDW CEO John Edwardson, started out in IT at NCR, when AT&T owned it. Then he worked for Microsoft's consulting service, and helped in the launch of a Microsoft-oriented service firm called Avanade, formed as a partnership between Accenture and Microsoft. Avanade is now a subsidiary of Accenture.
"The key role of the CIO now is to sit right next to your business partner and really understand their goals," he says. "How are they trying to drive revenue? You need to show them the art of the possible, what to plug in that can make their approach to the market, the customer experience, better."
Understanding technology is important for a CIO, Stevens says, but being able to understand the business pressures both internal and external customers are dealing with is just as essential. And there's nothing like first-hand business experience, though "everyone learns differently -- everyone has different opportunities."
Being able to connect the customer experience with the capabilities of technology is the secret to being a successful CIO, Stevens says. "Being that bridge is key."