Saturday, December 20, 2014

Where do CIOs Come From?

Ultimately, the CIO success is about vision, leadership, business acumen, innovation & creativity, strategic insight and beyond.

Compare to the other executive positions, the CIO position has a shorter history, but a more dynamic role to play due to the continuous changes of information & technology. Although the “DNA of CIO” is still a bit stereotypical from industry survey, the digital trend is that more and more CIOs have diversified experience and colorful background, working across functional and industrial boundaries, from technologist to artist; from entrepreneur to consultant, from business strategist to talent manager, where do CIOs come from and what makes a great CIO?

Combining the prior capability variable with the required leadership skills assessment may shed more light on being a great CIO. There have been a lot of brainstorming and debates about "what makes a good CIO?” There are of course proponents adamant that CIOs should be squarely grounded in a technical IT background and then there are those that feel CIOs should have a strong business background and hence are more likely to succeed in attaining consistent strategic integration between business and IT. The point is that the great CIOs should well mix both the technical insight and business acumen to run digital IT today.

Whether you hire an Internal CIO or an External CIO depends on your perspective of IT strategy: It depends on where the organization sees IT and the direction that the organization needs to head towards. Promoting an internal resource into a CIO role is fine if the IT function wants to stick to the current strategy and business culture. However, bringing in an external CIO can provide a transformational approach if the organization is playing catch up to where they need to get to, or make a radical digital transformation and reinvent IT to be more competitive. It depends on what the organizational leaders see as their most important problem/opportunity and the characteristics of the IT leader that is required to pull it off.

Most successful CIOs have a good balance of technology and business: It doesn’t so matter where the CIO comes from as long as he or she understands the mission, to drive the business growth and improve IT maturity. Clearly, this requires the CIO to understand both the requirements of the business and the capability of IT to enable it. The CIO is someone who is a good leader with vision and thinks in line with the business and persuades his/her organization down below to align with business goals and objectives and integrate into business capacity, and continuously improve IT maturity.

CIOs should be business strategy oriented, sit on the big table to co-create business strategy: With SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud) technologies, we are seeing more and more IT organizations around the globe engaged in revenue generating initiatives (as well as the more traditional cost reduction services). IT is being seen as both an enabler and driver of business change/transformation; hence, it is IT and business integrated with each other as a seamless whole. IT should not be taking a purely subservient role. IT is now so integrated into the businesses irrespective of the industry that in some cases it has actually become the business. So the CIO should be business strategy oriented, sits on the big table of the company and has the ability to clearly communicate and sell IT projects to non-IT executives. Given the assimilation by IT, it may well happen that the CIO role will morph with that of the CEO over time or that CIOs become the next CEOs and it may happen sooner or may be happening already in some of the IT-intensive businesses out there.

Clearly, the role of IT and that of the CIO is going through some significant changes: We have long known that IT professionals at all levels require an appropriate balance of technical, business, management, industry, and interpersonal skills. It is extremely critical with the emerging IT consumerization trend. A bigger problem is having non-IT professionals understand how best to leverage IT, or that CIOs coming from non-IT usually require a second in command that can serve as the IT Champion within the IT organization and they are extremely open minded. However, the commensurate value of the CIO beyond IT rank is being able to better relate to the non-IT executives... it has merit in some enterprises/situations. Regardless of background, a great CIO is a visionary and a good communicator, understand both sides of the business and bridge the gaps effectively.

Ultimately, the CIO's success is about vision, leadership, business acumen, innovation & creativity, strategic planning, strong interpersonal communication skills, team-building, entrepreneurship, passion, commitment & energy. It's no wonder that truly successful CIOs are a rare breed regardless where they come from!


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