The days when CIOs could glide into a long-term career based solely on their technical abilities are rapidly fading.\n\u201cIt\u2019s no longer enough for IT leaders to be tech experts,\u201d warns Bob Hersch, a principal at Deloitte Consulting. The best-in-class CIOs of today are also business savvy, using their knowledge to embed IT as a service capability.\n[ Learn from your peers: Check out our State of the CIO 2020 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today. | Find out the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletter. ]\n\u201cThis business-centric approach integrates IT into an overall business strategy,\u201d he adds.\nThe best way any IT leader can augment his or her current technical knowledge \u2014 and strengthen their long-term career prospects \u2014 is by committing to acquiring the following seven essential business skills.\n1. An entrepreneurial mindset\nCIOs, regardless of their organization\u2019s size, have to act like entrepreneurs, operating with speed, agility, and ever higher levels of passion, empathy, and creativity, advises Ram Nagappan, CIO at global investment firm BNY Mellon Pershing.\nDisruption is the new constant. \u201cCompetition is coming from all corners of the market, with fintechs and startups moving at light speed,\u201d Nagappan says. To meet competition head on, CIOs must think like entrepreneurs and act as agents of change. \u201cThey need to constantly think about how their business could be disrupted at any point in time and how they can creatively deploy technology to get ahead of potential disruptors and future-proof the business,\u201d he suggests.\n2. Strong leadership skills\nLeadership is a core competency that paves the way to successful technology transformation. \u201cTo truly lead, you must have business acumen in addition to technical understanding,\u201d explains Richard Cox, CIO at media conglomerate Cox Enterprises. \u201cOur jobs are really to leverage technology to unleash the potential of the business, and you simply have to have an understanding of the business landscape in order to exploit these opportunities.\u201d\nLeadership is a combination of internal and external engagement. The problems CIOs face today are growing increasingly complex. The future is ambiguous, and answers are often not clear or simple. \u201cThe only way to navigate in ... these uncharted waters, is to build an environment that allows people to bring ideas, perspectives, and input to solve problems,\u201d Cox says. \u201cBuilding teams that create aligned empowerment is more important today than ever.\u201d\nPoor IT leaders often make the mistake of setting project plans, gate reviews, and delivery dates without educating the IT team on the who, what, when, and why of how the effort will help the enterprise, says Harley Bledsoe, CIO at BBB National Programs, a nonprofit organization that oversees more than a dozen industry self-regulation programs that sets standards for business advertising and privacy practices.\n\u201cBringing the team along on the journey as they execute on their deliverables is critical to developing an effective solution,\u201d he explains.\n3. A consumer-oriented focus\nTechnology has never been more powerful and accessible. Most employees \u2014 technical and non-technical \u2014 now have easy access to an array of sophistcated device, software, and network tools. CIOs need to ensure that workplace and work-at-home technologies at least keep pace with consumer products and services. Employees will quickly get frustrated if enterprise technology and services are more difficult to use than their home counterparts, Hersch warns. \u201cWhen IT is perceived as an obstacle, the entire department is at risk,\u201d he says.\nShadow IT typically emerges when enterprise employees become dissatisfied with IT-provided tools. \u201cThese alternative IT capabilities diminish the CIO and IT\u2019s role,\u201d Hersch explains. \u201cOver time, this can create the perception that the central IT department is an expensive and expendable infrastructure that doesn\u2019t enable the organization for growth.\u201d\n4. Financial acuity\nOnce a CIO recognizes and understands the various factors that influence their enterprise\u2019s finances, they can more accurately pinpoint the technology investments that promise to make the greatest impact.\n\u201cIt\u2019s extremely likely technology can help solve any major problems or expand upon new opportunities,\u201d says Martin Christopher, CIO of insurance provider CUNA Mutual Group. \u201cIt may be in accessing data for analytics, accelerating products to market, growing or optimizing channels, or [providing] automation and AI for better customer experiences, but inevitably there are tangible ways technology can help.\u201d\nChristopher recommends spending time working with the enterprise finance planning and analysis (FP&A) team. \u201cToo often, CIOs limit their focus to their own budgets and may only have a general sense of what\u2019s causing changes to the company\u2019s quarterly performance,\u201d he says. \u201cYour FP&A teams will often have the best sense of what\u2019s happening \u2018below the waterline,\u2019 which could lead to a larger impact on company performance, positive or negative.\u201d\nChristopher adds that business unit leaders will generally be grateful to see the CIO\u2019s interest in what makes their business tick and how technology can help accelerate delivery of their objectives.\nFor CIOs working for a regulated industry firm, such as insurance or financial services, Christopher suggests spending time with the organization\u2019s governance, risk, and assurance (GRA) team.\n\u201cCIOs who misunderstand the frame of external requirements their company operates within will find it difficult to honor commitments to their business partners,\u201d he says. CIOs who aren\u2019t fully informed on regulatory issues may also inadvertently discourage creative thinking, subconsciously fearing that the innovation may, in some way, violate a regulatory mandate.\nBill VanCuren, senior vice president and CIO at NCR, believes that IT leaders should possess at least some formal accounting and finance education. Even more important, he adds, is maintaining a close working collaboration with the CFO team to review costs and other key financial issues.\n\u201cYou should also facilitate formal benchmarking of your IT costs and benefit tracking for comparison to best practices both within your industry and more broadly,\u201d he recommends. \u201cI personally participate in business case reviews to stay current on where IT investments are being positioned across the company.\u201d\n5. Strategic thinking\nIT leaders should never stop refining their strategic reasoning abilities skills. \u201cCIOs need to envision the future state of their business, spearhead strategies that create new products and business models, and influence change,\u201d says Thomas Phelps, CIO at Laserfiche, an enterprise content management technology provider, and an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. \u201cTo do this, you need a deep understanding of your business, your industry, and be willing to try bold new ideas.\u201d\nCIOs are increasingly expected to stay ahead of existing and emerging technologies and evaluate them within the context of business goals. \u201cThey have to work more closely than ever with the CEO and every business line within the company,\u201d BNY Mellon Pershing\u2019s Nagappan says. \u201cThey must bring to the table their business knowledge as well as the creativity needed to deploy technology to advance business goals, and to deliver a seamless, superior client experience and greater efficiency.\u201d\n6. A technologist\u2019s mindset\nA technician has a basic knowledge of general technology principles and applications. A technologist, on the other hand, is someone who\u2019s fully aware of current and emerging technologies and their impact on business operations and services.\n\u201cIt\u2019s more than understanding technology \u2014 it\u2019s also truly understanding business,\u201d says Alicia Johnson, consulting principal of technology transformation at professional services firm Ernst & Young.\nA successful CIO must be able to set an enterprise\u2019s IT direction while planning for future expansion. \u201cTo do this, they need to be transparent, exhibit strong communication skills, partner with other business units, develop a reliable team, and demonstrate a vision for the business,\u201d Johnson explains.\nA major challenge for CIOs is knowing how to do more with less, particularly when planning budgets. \u201cIf a CIO can think logically about the direction and growth plans of a business, they\u2019ll be able to understand available budgets and which investments are most important in reaching the overall business goals,\u201d Johnson says. \u201cThis skill is essential, because it will help CIOs succeed when it comes to business investments, partnering with the business, communicating, setting expectations for stakeholders, and team development.\u201d\nBeing able to articulate a clearly defined future vision will also helps build trust within the IT team as well as with enterprise peers.\n7. A strong business communicator\nAn IT leader must express ideas and concepts in a manner that business colleagues can easily understand. \u201cLose the tech-speak,\u201d advises Seth Harris, a partner in executive search firm ON Partners.\nCIOs should speak in terms that a non-tech expert can understand and, whenever possible, use metrics that mean something to the business. \u201cFor example, don\u2019t talk about upgrading a web platform, talk about driving revenue via ecommerce and the critical components needed to make that happen,\u201d Harris suggests.\nBeing an active listener goes hand-in-hand with strong communications skills. \u201cTo meet and exceed customer expectations, mutual understanding is critical, which can only be achieved through a strong relationship built through open and active back and forth communication,\u201d BBB National Programs\u2019 Bledsoe says.