CIOs need to play different roles effortlessly, as a change agent, a strategist, a talent master and a tactical IT manager.
Perhaps today’s CIOs can be categorized into three buckets: an IT specialists who come from technology ranks; business generalists who have experience in business functions or certificated gurus who hold both technology and business degree; however, there’s no statistics showing one category of CIOs perform extremely better than others, thus, beyond background, which strengths shape a modern CIO, and what are key characteristics of an effective CIO?
1. T-Shape Knowledge/Skills
Modern CIOs are typical T-shape talent, need hybrid knowledge & skills, and CIOs have to have a leg in both worlds. The CIO has to know the business drivers, and speak in business terms, but they also need to know technology, how that technology relates to business drivers and what is and is not possible. Some suggest skills of CIOs as mix 35% Technical, 40% People, and 25% Business knowledge.
- The CIO role is multi-faceted: Depend on the nature of the business; one of those facets may become more important. The key to understanding is that 'technical' knowledge is only one of those facets, and depending on what is happening, by far not the most important. As an example, if the technology program at the company is expected to be stable, and are entering a cost-cutting cycle, one can argue that the financial, negotiation skills may be more critical than the actual technical skills.
- The CIO needs to have hybrid talent: Understanding technology and technical staff is important: Ironically this sums up why business need CIOs because non-technical people can't explain to technical people in precise enough terms what they want. Though you may have both technical and non-technical people who have been successful in the CIO role. many argue that in this world where the business is driven by IT, organization needs a hybrid, on one hand, it's more than a little frustrating when the CIO doesn't really understand their technical staff; on the other hand, a business leader with adequate technical skills who can drive technology to deliver value to the organization, not just technical wizardry, but about how to translate into revenue or profit in the business.
- The CIO needs to master both management and governance: No process works without policy. A process in and of itself must be governed or it won't be followed and the best procedure or program cannot enforce it, without policy. This means that the CIO role must drive a model of governance supported by business policy, then the why and what will be effective. The string on who makes a better CIO choice seems ludicrous, as the best of any role is a well-rounded individual.
2. Polyglot to Speak Multiple Business & Technical Dialects
A successful CIO of today has to understand sales/marketing dialect, to "sell" his/her ideas and proposals to be effective executive; A strategic CIO can also speak architect’s dialect to understand things in both abstract and design level; a CIO may also need to count the beans periodically to adapt to finance tongue; of course, an effective CIO needs to be good at technology terms to understand IT staff, and knowing some key technical details can also benefit in managing project portfolio effectively, often that includes business value. Further, CIOs who can speak different languages could become true global leaders as a letter-based language can improve leaders' logic understanding while a symbol-based language can enforce one's synthetic cognizance.
- A CIO as a business polyglot can communicate better: IT strategy explicitly linked to corporate strategy through defined business initiatives, IT strategy is integral to the corporate strategy effort, and is key enablers of corporate strategy. There are no "us vs. them" - no business-IT alignment issues, as IT is integral to the business. The CIO is the peer to other C-level executives, not subordinate, and are involved in most business decisions, as they all speak the same language. CIOs have to understand the business value today more than ever before to be effective.
- Practice audience tailored communications: A CIO that can communicate effectively with all levels of the organization, has a solid grasp of the business goals and objectives and can translate them into an IT strategy, and has a solid comprehension of the financial strategy and approach taken by the CFO would be a rare breed indeed in a majority of the organizations, regardless of size or industry. Many niche CIOs really focus on leading from the standpoint of addressing key issues in their organizations being faced at that moment in time.
- Fix “Lost in Translation” syndrome: Can the CIOs understand the focus/goals of the company to ensure IT is focused on those goals? Does IT have the vision necessary for the business to succeed and grow? The role of the CIO as taking the goals/vision of the business and translating it into the technology requirements. The CIO needs to understand the needs of the different business units, but their needs/vision would be spelled out by their leaders, not the CIO. The CIO needs to take those needs and translate them into an IT investment to support that vision unless the company is a technology company where this argument would have a different focus. So business “polyglot” CIOs can fix “lost in translation” syndrome.
3. Intrapreneur’s Attitude & Aptitude
At the digital era, CIOs need to be more as “glue” than “guru,” as knowledge life cycle is shortened due to the business and technology dynamic, and it takes entrepreneur’s attitude and aptitude to run IT as a business, doing more with innovation.
- Value Creator: Two values that IT generates are Core Asset Value (Software, Hardware, etc.) and vitally important Value-In-Use which most overlook. The business leader type CIOs could harness the former with dynamic control over IT investments maximizing operating ratios and improvements. Then they could find easier in the latter the places where IT and business units intersect to examine where levers to utilize Value-In-Use would work best for company leverage.
- Running IT as Business: Technology by itself doesn't 'do' anything. Applying technical capabilities to market opportunities is where the magic happens Key focus areas should be: (1) Effectively manage existing and new technology (80% Cost = Run Maintain) (2)Help Innovate Business (Process + Scope) (3) Apply technology in new and innovative ways to stay ahead of competition and industry.
- Influence IT & Business Culture: Business savvy in your technical team is a must have if you are going to be competitive. There are two ways to get that: push the IT people out in the business, or bring the business folks into IT. Either way can work, usually, it's easier to find technical domain expertise once the business challenge has been defined than it is to get technical people focused on business problems. CIOs can be big influencers on the business culture.
There’re many key traits in CIO leadership, there’re many talents in modern CIOs, there’re many capabilities CIOs should cultivate, and the most important thing is: CIOs need to play different role effortlessly, as a change agent, a strategist, a talent master and a tactical IT manager.