At Information Management, we are always studying strategy events and trying to digest management activity, partly for use in our own jobs, but professionally as observers.

A corollary to observation is expectation, and where the buck stops, the CIO role today is under all sorts of observation and commentary. Pick a buzzword: virtualization, hadoop, social media, cloud etc., and you will find philosophies, books, conferences and careers already carved out on the terms.

This week I am headed to the 2011 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. It's their 8th annual event and it coincides with MIT's 150th anniversary, so they're putting a little extra in this year, though the lineup is as good as you'd expect.

Most anyone with a serious role in information management today will tell you there is a palpable sense of opportunity in managing information right now. The question today always seems to center around where to go next.

I spoke with Dr. Graham Rong of MIT Sloan, the chairman of the event, to get his take. He sent an introduction to the event called "Beyond the Crossroads - The evolving role of the CIO in the digital business world."

It's apropos, he explains, because we really are beyond the crossroads of validating digital trends. The CIO hurdle today is to be up to date, contextually aware and capable of effecting transformation.

Surely, we ought to have a week (or a sabbatical) to digest this topic, but as Rong said, "it's very difficult to get these people to an event for even a day."

So beyond academia and intellect, I chalk up a lot of these events to the need for validation. I thought of Ray Wang's split-personality CIO theory of divided interests, and how contextually dependant the job is today. Any evidence or trending we can get at these conferences might be the best outcome to support a number of siloed CIOs taking on similar types of projects while all venturing on new ground.

"We talk about this so much," Rong said. Should a CIO be a technology or product leader, product or service oriented. Adoption is another category, is it the CIO job to lead investigation or implementation?"

It might help to put that aside, and first and foremost consider the CIO support role to the CEO or CFO, Dr. Rong said. "This person looks beyond day to day to strategies and their position may change to become more strategic along the way."

In other words, CIOs can't get bunkered in their projects to the degree they lose touch with ongoing transformation.

Nobody is saying that's an easy thing to do, especially with transformational projects under way. The supply and demand of opportunity and expectations seems to be higher than ever. You could say there are many paths to success for today's CIO, and after the usual background check, the most important qualification today might be ability to grasp context followed by a desire to rise to the challenge.

It's not something you can understand in a day. For a lot of CIOs in the same "exciting" circumstances, there is support in the network and an opportunity to gather some evidence and support for the best cause they identify.

That's how we try to observe, listen and learn, as in our newly released 25 Top Information Manager update. Sometimes a fly on the wall has the best seat in the house.

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