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Millennials want to be digital entrepreneurs, not CIOs

Clint Boulton | April 11, 2016
Despite the rising popularity in digital transformations, one college professor says his students want no part of the CIO role, let alone IT.

millennials digital entrepreneurs

Roughly 100 CIOs from large corporations met at the Forbes CIO Summit in Half Moon Bay, Calif. last monthto share ideas and accept awards for their IT successes. They listened to Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman and CEO Marc Benioff sound off on how crucial the CIO role is to the business. More specifically, CEOs are entrusting their CIOs to conduct digital transformations, essentially migrating to software many services that had been previously operated manually.

Whitman said IT and business strategy are interlocked, with the CIO "central" to ensuring successful outcomes. But in the Cadillac of endorsements for the role, CEO Marc Benioff discussed how CIOs who led successful digital transformations would become CEOs.

Yet there is another narrative playing outside the insular, Fortune 500-fat bubble of such events.

CIO role gets no love from millennials

Millennials see other opportunities to make a healthy living in technology without taking on some of the onerous responsibilities of the CIO’s job, says Tom Davenport, distinguished professor of IT and Management at Babson College, which is known for its entrepreneurial programs. Sure, but where do we work it in? Davenport, who wrote a column about this issue that Fortune published just days after the Forbes event, says his students want to go start their own company, seeking their fortunes by building the next unicorn. "Today, none of my students wants to become a CIO or even to work in IT. They are interested in being digital entrepreneurs and innovators,” he wrote.

He recalls teaching CIO-wannabes at the University of Texas at Austin in 1996. At that time, the best job in IT was being a CIO. Good pay and the ability to manage teams of people installing client-server systems, maintaining email, implementing ERP systems and connecting cables in data centers. The CIO often reported to the CFO, who tightly controlled IT spending. Yet the job was viewed with a certain respect. Companies with CIOs managing large IT departments were progressive and forward-thinking.

Fast forward to today and CIOs are beset by hackers, pulling their hair out over rationalizing legacy hardware and software, and managing cloud vendors over whom they often have little control. Playing the undesirable "wet blanket" role, some CIOs must also banish unsanctioned cloud services or mobile devices to protect the company's data.

Davenport says another problem dulling any shine the CIO role may have is managing digital products and services or big data is “hived off” to chief digital officers, chief data officers, and chief analytics officers who don’t necessarily report to the CIO. “If all those roles are getting created it often means that the stuff left for the CIO is keeping the lights on and running basic systems and applications that keep the business going but not the really exciting stuff,” Davenport told in a recent interview. In other words, where is all of the fun in being a CIO?


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