I had an excellent conversation recently with my friend Michael Fitz, Vice President of Business Solutions at Sprint Nextel. Mike and I spoke about the business impact of the "big shift" in CIO leadership and how the changing focus of IT is helping more companies drive new revenue in competitive markets.

"The role of the CIO is evolving from an internal focus on employee productivity to an external focus on growing the business," Mike says. "It's not a total break with the past. CIOs are still interested in helping employees become more productive through better use of technology. That hasn't changed. But what has changed dramatically is that more CIOs are stepping up and using new technology to drive revenue for their companies. That's the big shift, from our perspective."

Social media, big data, cloud and mobile have been game changers. But those newer technologies have also raised the bar, and expectations are now significantly higher than in the past. "Ten or 15 years ago, the CIO could say, 'Wow, look at how many of our employees have email,' and it would have been a big deal. Today, it's not such a big deal. The modern CIO has 'graduated' from providing technology just for the sake of improved productivity," Mike says.

I think that Mike makes an excellent point. The idea of building a business on productivity by itself has become an old-fashioned idea. That's not to say that productivity isn't important - but the modern enterprise relies on more than productivity to achieve long-term business success in competitive markets.

"That realization has created some great business opportunities for us here at Sprint," Mike says. "We offer turnkey capabilities that enable CIOs to help employees become more productive. We also offer technologies and services that help companies grow their revenue."

From my perspective, the "bifurcated" approach developed by Mike and his team represents a highly logical response to the genuine needs of modern CIOs. It clearly reflects the progression of IT leadership as it evolves from focusing purely on productivity enhancements to focusing more broadly on achieving business results that are aligned with enterprise strategy.

Mike has captured the essence of the "big shift" in IT leadership. Today's CIO is much more than a technology person engaged in a series of "either/or" scenarios. The modern CIO operates in full partnership with the C-suite, and is perceived as a valuable source of expert knowledge that is applied primarily to growing the business. Productivity is still important, but generating revenue for the enterprise has become the CIO's pre-eminent focus.