Blending IT and business ability – becoming a Chief Information Officer (CIO)

Blending IT and business ability – becoming a Chief Information Officer (CIO)

CIOs have overall responsibility for IT strategy within a business and are accountable for the governance and management of IT resources.

Amrit SaroyaIn most organizations, the CIO is someone with a broad knowledge of IT and is able to provide vision and leadership in all aspects of IT management.

As a leader in the business, the CIO works with other senior managers to define, articulate and champion an organization’s strategic and operational plans, identifying where the business is growing and how a robust IT strategy can support and stimulate growth.

What are the typical tasks of a CIO?

The role of the CIO varies enormously by geographic location and industry. In fact, the 2015 CIO Agenda found that 60 per cent of CIOs in Asia work alongside a Chief Operating Officer (COO) for IT, compared to only 34 per cent in North America.

So while no role or single day is the same for a CIO, typical tasks will include:

  • Defining the company’s IT strategy
  • Managing the information systems departmental activity
  • Managing risk across the business
  • Negotiating and then implementing complex contracts
  • Providing counsel to general management on key strategic decisions
  • Ensuring the reliability, confidentiality, security and integrity of all information systems, including compliance with service level agreements.

What are businesses looking for in a CIO?

According to a survey of more than 50 senior IT professionals conducted by Henley Management College and the British Computer Society, the most desired skills in a CIO are professional, rather than technical.

Peter High, president of Metis Strategy, says, "what really separates the leaders from the rest of the pack is some significant business acumen." Being able to anticipate the long-term IT needs of a business are one thing, but the challenge for CIOs is aligning information systems strategy with the business vision and commercial success.

Today's business leaders are looking for CIOs that, according to High, "have spent a little bit of time in a business environment.” Having cut their teeth in the real world, these professionals High believes will have a better understanding of how technology affects a company's bottom line.

But alongside solid business awareness, a potential CIO needs to be a people person too. The research showed that 53 per cent of IT leaders reported a shortage of personal skills such as communication and leadership in junior managers but felt that communications, and listening skills in particular, were “utterly essential” in a CIO.

And once CIOs have built relationships with their colleagues, they also need to create credibility which, according to Jody Davids, CIO of Cardinal Health, "comes from the consistent ability to deliver on your promises".

Summarizing, High said "the average person who joins an IT department certainly does not have the makeup to be a CIO, just as the average person in finance does not have the makeup to be a CFO.”

Is the profile of the typical CIO changing?

Since its creation in the late 1950s, the CIO role has undoubtedly changed and continues to evolve.

According to authors Jeanne W Ross and David F Feeny in The Evolving Role of the CIO, these early CIOs were rarely involved in IT strategy, let alone wider business decisions, but were more responsible for delivering new IT systems on time and on budget. As technology has developed and become a staple of every business, so too has the role of the IT leader in organizational decisions.

Today, the CIO role is now held by those who are much newer to the industry, with some CIOs aged under 40. This goes to show that although ‘time-served’ experience is valuable, having the right skill set isn’t always age dependent.

If you want to know more about the CIO role, visit and sign up to the AXELOS Career Path.

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