CIO Development

Article To make the transition to top CIO, these skills are vital

A decade ago CIOs were undervalued, overworked, under pressure and frustrated. They knew they could be leading their firms to new ways of doing business enabled by IT, but no-one would listen. Cynics of the time were fond of suggesting that CIO stood for “Career Is Over”. Today, much of this has changed. The CIO now enjoys a role and status that his peers from ten years ago would not recognise.

Professor Michael Earl of London Business School conducted a seminal study among the CIOs of 90 of the world’s largest organisations. He found that nearly three in four sat on the operating board, whilst 60 per cent reported to the CEO or COO. They took part in the meetings that mattered and were expected to make a business contribution as much as a technology one. To assess the extent to which this “New CIO” model was emerging in the UK, I led a further study among Britain’s largest companies and public sector organisations. I was closely supported in IMPACT by Professor Earl at LBS, with assistance from BCS Elite, Certus and the Computer Weekly 500 Club ensuring that this was one of the most comprehensive investigations ever into the performance and prospects of the UK’s leading IT executives. The report, confirmed the trend extended to the UK and established a national benchmark against which participating IT directors could position themselves, enabling them to make informed decisions about their roles and careers.

We found that two quite new role extensions were expected in the ranks of top CIOs. One was in leading, managing and facilitating business change and the other was acting as a business strategist, influencing business strategy and helping businesses work out and respond to technology-enabled threats and opportunities in the world of e-commerce and beyond. Due to the complexity of the demands being placed on the CIO, some international organisations had split the role into two: the first, a CIO responsible for the business-facing activities such as change, strategy-making and information policy and systems; the second a chief technology officer (CTO) responsible for technology policies, infrastructure-building and provision of operations and services.

UK CIOs in the main had a CTO reporting to them (with the exception of the broader remit of the telecoms CTOs who usually had the head of IT reporting to them) with CEOs and headhunters indicating they preferred a hybrid CIO who could assume responsibility for both the technology and business facing issues. Such individuals are scarce and this has fuelled a search for CIO talent that has led to the emergence of four CIO role types in the UK: professional, paratrooper, consultant and executive.

These changes have had an impact. A welcome change has been the increasing willingness of ambitious IT executives to take on soft skills development of various kinds, including leadership development and executive coaching, and an increasing enthusiasm among the IT community to embrace career and executive development training. As one CIO remarked: “Leadership training transformed me from an accidental leader into a deliberate, practising one. It enabled me to convince others to go places and to place trust where they’d been reluctant to do so before”.

To make the transition to top CIO, three skill sets are vital: business know-how, technological confidence and high-order behavioural skills. The last includes the ability to manage and facilitate change, personal communication skills, leadership, teamwork and the ability to influence others.

Although most organisations still haven’t got the message, an effective CIO operating at the top of the company is second only to the CEO in capacity to influence across a broad range of processes and functions, and is uniquely placed to influence the organisation’s future.

Contact Brinley Platts on 07973 745 640 at CIODEVELOPMENT.COM to find out how you can engage your colleagues and team on the issues raised by this article.

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