If you want to learn about the state of midmarket, then just eavesdrop on a gathering of nearly 200 midmarket IT leaders along with the industry’s top tech suppliers and industry experts.

Well, that is the opportunity many of us at the Midsize Enterprise Summit had in late September at the MES Fall 2017 conference where senior IT leaders, Gartner analysts, vendors, solution providers and industry experts assembled for nearly three days. The CIOs and senior IT managers came to hear the wisdom of the crowd so they can solve the most pressing business and technology issues facing their organizations.

CIOs Alive and Well

Before we dive into some of the key takeaways, there was one thing missing from the conference.

In years past, the siren song heard at most IT conferences was that the CIO’s influence is diminishing as chief marketing officers and others emerged as the new IT decision makers. Vendors and solution providers were seduced by this trend and pivoted. They started focusing their messaging and sales pitches to these executives.

Based on what we saw and heard at MES Fall 2017, the CIO and IT leader are alive and well.

In fact, CIOs have regained much of their lost influence and respect thanks to their hard work. They have aggressively stepped into business conversations to remain relevant. There was less talk about controlling costs and process improvement than there was about how to meet business objectives, grow company revenue and work side by side with line of business managers. For more on this issue, read Gartner Releases CIO Agenda survey.

Clearly, CIOs—at least those who attended the MES conferences in 2017—evolved their roles due to the digitization of their businesses emerging as business leaders not just technologists.

Perhaps that is why the keynote presentation by Gen. Bernie Banks, who now teaches at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, was so well received. Another keynote by noted author Don Yaeger on what makes great teammates truly resonated. One CIO who attended the event said he just completed an MBA program because he believes the future IT leader must have a better understanding of how to drive the business forward with technology. He worked hard to juggle job, family and education to get that degree.

Hot Technology Topics

When we asked MES Fall 2017 attendees what technology, management and business topics they want to understand in more depth, the responses were illuminating. Below are the responses we collected as part of a wide-ranging survey.

That more than 75 IT leaders crammed into a post-event security workshop is testament to how important security is to these executives. Their biggest challenge is sorting through all the IT security solutions available and convincing management to budget enough dollars to secure their organization’s data and confidential information. Every CIO in attendance said they struggle with IT security and do not have dedicated staff members to deal with just security.

Hand-in-hand with security is cloud. Many CIOs said they need to better understand securing what they are storing or managing in public clouds.

These executives are also hungry for information about technology’s impact on their specific industry such as higher education or manufacturing.

What else are midmarket CIOs pining for? Prospective emerging technologies that will be the future disruptors, collaboration software and video conferencing, along with SD-WAN and analytics. IoT and containers also came up as topics but not by the majority.

But what came up in the survey consistently was the appetite for education about team building, management, the difference between being a CIO and CTO, and leadership development. As one attendee said, he wanted to learn how to run “IT like a business and IT as a source of revenue for the company.”

The remaining topics were a smorgasbord of tech topics like endpoint security and tools to improve project management and negotiating skills. Such is the life of a midmarket CIO—they need to know it all.

If you would like to attend a future MES conference, the spring conference registration will soon be open. Register for MES Spring 2018 in Orlando now.