The Skills Required To Be A Successful Modern CIO

The role of the CIO, is shifting dramatically, according to Gartner’s 2019 CIO Agenda: Secure the Foundation for Digital Business insights.

Gartner's 2019 CIO Agenda: Secure the Foundation for Digital Business insights shows that the role of the CIO within the organisation is shifting, and it's doing so quickly. With 49 per cent of organisations saying that their business model has changed or is in the middle of changing, and 55 per cent of organisations having made the shift from project delivery to product delivery, the role of the CIO, as central to these changes, is also shifting dramatically.

As the role changes, so too do the skills that a CIO needs in order to effectively execute on the new business priorities and digital focus.

The shift to product delivery gives CIOs a new level of engagement with the customer or consumer, and brings them into close alignment with the CMO. Underpinning this engagement is the demand for data and effective analytics, and so many CIOs will find a level of understanding of data science to be greatly beneficial. Furthermore, data science will itself be a pathway into a CIO's role over the next couple of generations of executive.

With technology being so core to the customer experience, CIOs are also being expected to take a greater leadership role in the organisation, across all departments. They now report to the CEO and sit on boards, but increasingly need to be aware that they could be pushed out to a very minor role on the executive team if they lack the leadership and influencing skills to take full advantage of this opportunity. Organisations will hire CXOs and CDOs to manage their technology landscape if the CIO is unable to step up.

A well-positioned digital era CIO, therefore, would be one with a team of capable senior executives supporting them -  either reporting directly to them or working in very close synergy with them at an equivalent level of expertise and authority -  while they take a broader strategic view on the organisation and its technology-related opportunities and solutions. As the CIO's significance to the enterprise continues to expand, the CIO team of the future could look a lot like a CEO's team today, including a Chief Digital Officer to focus on the customer experience, Chief Data Officer and Chief Technical Officer and a Chief Operating Officer.

Finally, a modern CIO is expected to have a little of that "rock star" X-factor and an entrepreneurial streak.  With so much of the innovation in business coming directly from technology, business leaders are looking for inspiration to Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, Bengaluru, and other technology innovation hot spots around the world. They like what they see in the culture and operating models of start-ups and digital disruptors. CEOs are looking to inject a similar spirit and new ways of working into their own organisations.  Because they see the most exciting success stories in start-ups coming from those who exploit emerging technology and effortlessly grasp the shifting 'zeitgeist' of customer sentiment, they are naturally looking to their own IT leaders – especially their CIO – to supply some of that start-up spirit and a lot of that inventiveness.

Entrepreneurship needs a specific set of skills; an understanding of positive and negative risk, and how to encourage creative thinking within teams. Businesses will be looking to their CIOs to drive a healthy creativity within the organisation.

"If CIOs want to move out of an operational, functional mindset, to become true leaders of the digital businesses that they are protagonists in creating, then they need to up their entrepreneurialism – thinking up and facilitating new digital products, and then taking them to market," Gartner Research Director, CIO Advisory Group, Jenny Beresford, said.

"Leading CIOs in those businesses that are digitally mature – the 33 per cent (of respondents 2019 CIO Agenda: Secure the Foundation for Digital Business insights) are now scaling and/or harvesting value from, digital. An example might be a CIO in a university who is looking at companies like SpaceX and Alibaba for ideas and inspiration, so they can think more broadly about what is coming in the market and what consumers are seeing, buying and wanting.

"Finally, for CIOs in 2018 it's a challenge of confidence. CIOs need the confidence to step up and lead conversations around business. They do need business knowledge, ideally gained through a combination of general management experience and formal business studies such as an MBA, as well as an excellent understanding of both the operational functions of their current organisation and its market.  Then they need the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and believe that as CIOs they have created the digital business world, so they now have the 'permission space' to take a much more active role in leading it."

Ironically, one area where expertise has been diminished as a requirement to be an effective CIO is in technology. CIOs are starting to be drawn from career paths outside technology and engineering. Leaders in roles such as Chief Innovation Officer or General Manager are finding opportunities to step into the CIO position.

"Just as if you become CFO you need to understand the numbers, to be CIO you need to understand the technology. But that doesn't mean that you need to have had the traditional CIO background in engineering," Beresford said.

"Those CIOs who arrive at IT via a non-traditional path need to complement themselves with a very strong team reporting to them who do have deep technology backgrounds and expertise - but that mirrors the role of a modern CEO, who surrounds themselves with a cross-functional team of general managers and subject matter experts.

 "It has to do with that shift from IT as a cost centre to IT as a revenue and profit centre. CIOs now have the opportunity to identify trends and turn that into a business offering to take to market, and that entrepreneurial bent in itself doesn't require technical expertise."

For more information on the ongoing evolution of the CIO, and guidance for what CIOs need to do in the current market environment, click https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/trends/cio-agenda.