Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What are the most Important Skills for the CIO of the Future?

No wonder CIO is one of the most paradoxical and sophisticated leadership roles, as he or she must master all sort of thinking, cross-disciplinary knowledge, and synthetic capabilities.

IT is at the cross-road, shall it continue to be run as the cost center to keep the light on, or should it move up the maturity level –to become the value creator or even a game changer for the business? If so, what are the most important business skills for the CIO of the future? What are the important technical skills for the CIO of the future? What are those synthetic capabilities or unique skills which can differentiate a modern digital CIO from a traditional industrial CIO?

Digital leadership: As always, CIOs need to be a transformative leadership role, not just an IT functional manager. Especially now, businesses large or small are facing of radical digital disruption, CIOs need to be a knowledgeable business strategist and specialized business generalist to co-create strategy, the focal point of digitalization strategy is part and parcel of an overall corporate strategy and then an IT strategy. There are new digital characteristics such as unpredictability, adaptability, customer intimacy, agility., all words that traditional IT has not been really good at, the strong IT leadership will have the ability to steer IT into the future with clear vision with solid strategy as well as step-wise execution.

Technology awareness and vision: Technology changes very quickly. You must first be aware of new technology before you can learn to apply it to the business. So this is the prerequisite for CIO to become a technological visionary, understand how to capture the digital technology trend and well apply the right technology to the business with a tailored solution. It also means CIOs need to be a continuous learner, de-learn and re-learn all the times; you must have passion and drive at the core along with these qualities--Genuinely curious about Information. However, the expectation of a single person serving as omniscient technology sage is unreasonable. Often the salient point for identifying the tech solutions lies deep in the weeds of the individual business use-case and tech solution, far beyond executive view. Therefore, CIOs must be leaders, drawing from the experience and expertise of those around them, crafting and casting the vision for the ways in which tomorrow's business technologies can create sustainable business value.

Communication: Both interpersonal (understand others with empathy) /intrapersonal (deeply understand oneself) communications skills, assuming that all the rest must be in place as well. To be the most effective leader, you need to display the hard tech skills and knowledge, but more importantly, you need to be welcomed and invited to the table, be able to listen and translate business needs (what's said, and what's not) into actionable states and clear value delivered, you may also need to provide input and co-create business strategy by seeing through the technological lens.

Knowledge of applying IT to the business as a strategyIn real terms, the role of the CIO is to carry forward the business and use the available tools (in this case, the technology) as applied and customized solution for business transformation. If you see your business as an "asset under construction", the CIO is not only responsible for cost but is the enabler and architect of new business values. IT needs to transform the perception as a back office into an innovation engine, and being a real partner in driving the business. And definitely the “knowledge of applying IT to business” is a prerequisite for this.

CreativityFrom leadership surveys, creativity becomes #1 quality for business leaders today, perhaps it is, even more, critical for IT leadership. Due to the changing nature of technology and more often than not, technology is the main innovation disruptor for leading the next wave of business growth; only creative IT leaders can appreciate such unprecedented transformation, and look for every opportunity from risks; besides managing risks within every opportunity. Creativity is a higher level of thinking because it often imposes a higher cognitive load as you think 'harder' and consciously use different kinds of thought actions and thinking tools like association, perspective shifting, opposites etc when you are wanting to come up with a creative solution to a challenge. No wonder the CIO is one of the most paradoxical and sophisticated leadership roles, as he or she must master all sort of thinking, creativity is one of the most important thinking processes to connect the dots between IT and business, strategy and execution, management and governance, information, insight, and innovation as well.

It is hard to pick only one important skill for the CIO of future, as it is a role which needs to have cross-disciplinary knowledge, transcendent cognizance, and multi-dimensional vision, you have to continue to sharpen the skills and continue to grow in the role as well.


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