Top 10 Skills For Today’s CIO

The role of the CIO is becoming ever more important to any organization. With businesses prioritizing their digital transformations high on the list of strategic investments, this role is often found on the executive leadership team and their inputs are paramount to the organization’s strategy. As this role increases in importance, so do the nature of skills that CIOs are required to develop.

1. Talent Management & Development

Today’s CIOs need to have a good relationship with the Human Resources (HR) Department. As building the right team is critical to their success, the HR Department is a critical component in attracting, onboarding, developing, and compensating the team. Great CIOs establish a strategic partnership with their HR Department to ensure that they can execute these processes in such a way that this relationship delivers the right talent at the right time. It is also important that CIOs implement effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) processes to ensure that they have a diverse representation of ideas and innovative thinking to drive the team forward.

2. Financial Acumen

Many organizations today are ready to invest significant budget dollars toward digital transformation. This comes with it the responsibility of the CIO to effectively account for that budget to ensure that it is being allocated in a way that brings the optimal business value. CIOs need to partner with the CFO in effectively managing both CapEx (capital expenses) and OpEx (operating expenses) and ensure that projects are correctly categorized to balance business priorities, including cash flow management, depreciation and amortization, and expense allocation. This requires that the CIO have a high level of financial acumen, an understanding of how finances work, how financial decisions impact different stakeholder groups, and how to leverage this financial information when discussing projects at all phases in the IT organization.

3. Project Management & Execution

Although a large portion of work done by the IT Department is operational, there are often ongoing projects to build new services, capabilities, and products. These require project management and execution. It is important for CIOs to understand the project lifecycle, including the initiating, planning, executing, and closing stages and the associated processes in each. CIOs need to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the project controls and assess project progress and milestone completion. Whether projects are executed leveraging a waterfall methodology or an agile process, CIOs need to understand how to assess the project processes and help to manage stakeholder expectations.

4. Data & Analytics

Today’s organizations are demanding more data-driven decision-making processes. This requires that the CIO has a clear understanding of what this means, where the information is coming from to enable decisions, and how to effectively empower the right decision-makers with the right information. As data architectures are becoming more complex to enable stream processing, event-based notifications and alerts, and ingestion of multiple structured and unstructured data sources, a CIO has to understand what peer executives really need to make critical decisions regarding the organization’s strategic, tactical, and operational activities.

The CIO partners with the Chief Data and Analytics Officer (CDAO) to build the appropriate level of data literacy across the organization. This includes ensuring the departments have the right level of access, the right set of tools, and the fundamental understanding of how to effectively work with data in the process of converting it into information.

5. Cybersecurity

The current digital environment in which businesses find themselves brings with it new and intimidating risks. This includes new threats from unknown attackers looking to disrupt the business, steal valuable information, and steal company assets, both real and digital. This requires that the CIO have a strong understanding of assessing the potential impact and likelihood of a whole plethora of potential risks. As there is never enough budget to ameliorate all risks, a CIO has to make financial decisions on where to allocate the provided budget and how to effectively elevate unmanaged risks and their associated investment needs.

The CIO needs to partner closely with the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) in ensuring that the right technology and tools are in place to protect all of the organization’s endpoints and that the organization is educated on how to avoid cyber attacks. The CIO and CISO will often coordinate in the task of being the voice of the cybersecurity program when engaging with the executive team and with the board.

6. Curiosity & Innovation

CIO stands for Chief Information Officer, but in many businesses, CIOs are being leaned on to be the Chief Innovation Officer. As such, the CIO needs to not only be innovative in the way in which technology can be applied to creatively solve business problems, but is often asked to lead up processes to create an environment where innovation flourishes. This can include proposing and implementing organizational structures that incubate innovative ideas that bring together knowledge and expertise about business processes with technology. It can also include constructs such as design thinking workshops, communities of practice, innovation pipelines, and hackathons.

7. Strategic Thinking

As a member of the executive leadership team, CIOs are often asked to think about the company and their organization in a strategic manner. This often requires that the CIO be thinking of where the organization will be in 3-5 years. This requires a different level of thinking than what is required to manage the day-to-day operational aspects of the organization. It requires that the CIO lift themselves from the limitations related to the current operational work and envision what could be, assuming that many of the day-to-day challenges were resolved. This includes concepts like trendspotting, engagement with leaders within the industry and in relevant adjacent industries, and consumption and assessment of guidance from industry leaders, such as Gartner and Forrester.

8. Business Acumen

The CIO is a business leader first and a technology leader second. They are most effective when they can surround themselves with the best and brightest on the technology side and be able to be the connector between the innovative technology work that is happening in their organization and the business on the outside. They have the responsibility of being the business value translator, communicating why the technology work that their teams are doing is so important to the business’s success to their peers, and communicating the business objectives to their teams.

9. Communication

Much of what a CIO does is communication. Whether it is written or oral communication, the CIO has many stakeholder audiences to engage. This communication has to be tailored to effectively convey the message to the audience at hand. From casual interactions, such as one-on-ones, team meetings, and stakeholder meetings, to formal interactions, such as board presentations, investor engagements, and town hall meetings, the content and method of communication will vary greatly.

10. Business Partnership & Collaboration

Today, most technology projects are actually business projects. They have business stakeholders, business users, and definitive business objectives and targets. As such, the CIO has the responsibility of ensuring that they have strong and effective relationships with partners from across the business. They also have the responsibility of ensuring that many of their key staff also have effective business partner collaboration. This can require ongoing mentoring and influence to ensure that the IT organization as a whole is properly engaged with partnerships across the organization.

Final Words

Today’s CIO requires a different set of skills than in the past. CIOs are being asked to partner closely with other parts of the business to ensure their department’s success. By developing these ten critical skills, CIOs will set themselves and their organizations apart as best-in-class.

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