The Value of Tech-Savvy CIOs


CEOs today are looking for a hybrid CIO--that is, an IT leader with the right mix of technical understanding and business acumen.

And for as much as we argue that the business skills are more important, sometimes getting your hands dirty in the tech muck isn't such a bad thing.

Just ask Tom Conophy, the CIO of Intercontinental Hotels Group. Few industries are feeling the pain of how much more tech-savvy their customers have become than in hospitality, so Conophy and his group have to be on the ball with what technologies they must deploy at their hotels to meet their guests' needs.

IHG recently deployed a number of Microsoft Surface-enabled touch-screen computers at their hotels. Conophy admits that many people look at these gizmos as a "bit of a toy," but he sees value in utilizing them to serve customers. For instance, couples planning a wedding at one of their hotels can sit down with a concierge or planner and use the Surface tool to look at floor plans and menus--a nice touch for what can be a grueling, paper-laden task.

Conophy and his team have also deployed what they call "interactive wall boards," which are essentially 52-inch flat panel monitors also powered by touch-screen technology. These panels allow guests to check their flight status, conference or meeting schedules at the hotel or even browse RSS feeds for world news, stocks and weather. And they're working on deploying the ability to print out maps.

IHG owns and manages hotels, but also has franchises, so another big priority for Conophy is to educate those franchise owners on where IT can help them. One way they do that is around payment card standards.

"The gloves have come off. The Mastercards, Visas and American Expresses of the world are playing hardball," he says. "So it's all about informing franchise owners on what PCI is all about."

But that element of Conophy's job shows that he's much more than a technical CIO.

"Even though we're a technical team, in a lot of cases we're legal advisors, consultants, shoulders to cry on, etc.," he says. "We play am multi-faceted role in helping our owners with technical advice, since many of them aren't tech-savvy."

Conophy reports directly to IHG's CEO and sits on the company's eight-person executive committee. "I'm not at the table just as a propeller-head," he says. "I'm also there as a business leader."

I'll have more from Conophy in an upcoming feature on the future of IT and the CIO role. Stay tuned.


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