Is the new CIO role of today cultivating CEOs of the future?

The CIO role is changing — there’s no doubt about that — but the question remains: What does the new CIO role comprise? During her keynote presentation at the Forrester IT Forum in Las Vegas this week, Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, said the new CIO role is changing dramatically.

In its last CIO search, Xerox wasn’t looking for the highest-ranking IT person: Burns was looking for someone who was ready for real business.

“When we were looking to fill our CIO position we started out looking for sitting CIOs, and there were some great candidates,” Burns said. “However, none of those candidates gave me what I was looking for. I was looking for someone who spoke my language.”

While every CIO candidate supplied her with information about improving the website or applying the latest and greatest technologies, none of it applied to her as the CEO or provided what she needed from the business perspective, Burns said. Nobody talked to her about what the business needed, what they thought her business problems were or how they could be solved.

“I wanted them to ask me about business problems and how we could work together to find solutions to these problems,” she said. “I wanted someone who could speak my language and not necessarily someone who was very techie.”

Burns and Xerox finally chose their current CIO because he provided exactly what Burns sought: He had a point of view on the current company priorities and initiatives and addressed problems and solutions from a business perspective.

“We chose a CIO who didn’t have a technical background,” she said. “He was a consultant for years and he could translate tech speak into something the business could understand.”

Is this where the new CIO is headed? If the sessions at the forum are any indication, it appears that way. An innovator, a go-getter and an executive who can wear leadership hats across the organization outside of IT seems to be the next generation of CIOs.

But what’s next for the new CIO?

“My hunch is that a large number of the next-generation CEOs will actually be former CIOs,” Burns said. “That’s how much I think the role of the CIO is changing.”

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