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How to become a CIO

How to become a CIO

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It’s a commonly believed misnomer that the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the biggest, baddest tech expert in the whole organisation. But in today’s digital age, a good CIO is more business-orientated than heavy duty tech warrior.

Acting as the conduit between technological innovation and the needs of the greater organisation, the CIO has a heavy focus on influencing the purchase of new technologies, translating technical jargon into practical terms, nurturing talent and innovation and understanding how tech changes could impact the organisation’s bottom line.

To become a CIO, you’ll need to demonstrate:

  • Expertise in understanding complex technology and applying it in a practical way to create solutions
  • The ability to communicate effectively and influence behaviour at all levels
  • Strong leadership skills, ideally with experience across a range of IT and digital functions
  • A practical understanding of business, marketing and finance.

However, these are the basic requirements; to be a truly effective CIO in today’s rapidly changing environment, you also need to…

Adopt a curious mindset.

A recent study by Gartner revealed 95% of CIOs expect their jobs to change or be remixed due to digitalisation, and rightly so, as technology is advancing at such a rate that business leaders need to be constantly primed for change. That’s why one of the most important personality traits for any business leader, and especially the CIO, is curiosity. You need to be genuinely interested in picking up new skills, understanding new technologies and solving new problems.

That said, it’s impossible for one person to be an expert in all things digital and IT, and as the CIO, you need to know when to speak up and make decisions, and when to admit your lack of knowledge in a particular subject area and bring in more specialised experts from the team.

Be humble.

In an era of cloud-based software, AI algorithms and data-driven dashboards, there’s a seemingly infinite amount of new tech out there promising the world, and your colleagues will undoubtedly want it all!

But people will always want shiny new technology – and you can’t say yes to everything. Your job as CIO is to decide what is, and more importantly what isn’t, a priority for the business.

When a colleague, team or department requests a new digital platform or software, instead of simply looking at the suggested solution, you also need to understand the original challenge and/or issue so you can consider a range of possible solutions. Some may indeed include the fancy tech platforms your colleagues have in mind while others are likely to be more mundane yet practical solutions. 

In addition, before introducing new technology, part of your job is to consider many different variables including upfront cost, likely ROI, safety, implementation timelines, day-to-day impact on the frontline business, change management and communication, ongoing support and maintenance.

Have something worth saying.

Good boards aren’t deeply tribal. Which is to say you need to have more to contribute to the discussion than the technical topics you specialise in.

While you may always see things through tech-tinted glasses, when you take on the role of CIO you need a strong understanding of the business as a whole, including day-to-day internal operations, your organisation’s products and services, core objectives and key competitors. 

As the CIO, the board will rely on you to be the expert in all things data. Data analysis is an essential part of understanding customer behaviour and making good business decisions. As a result, many departments within your organisation will be collecting and analysing data. However, keeping track of the data held, keeping it safe and, at the same time, enabling access to accurate and high quality data, is IT’s responsibility. With the GDPR dictating how we mine and store data, you need to be the data advocate on the board, guiding them in the right direction.

The role of CIO is challenging but the influence and impact of the role has never been greater. If you combine technical knowhow, curiosity and humility with a real understanding of your organisation and its objectives, you’ll take your organisation to an entirely new level.
 

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