by Stephen Miles

7 Skills that the CEO wants from the CIO

Feb 21, 2011
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Probably the most important relationship a CIO has is with the CEO. A good relationship between these two people means the business understands the potential benefits the IT team can deliver to the rest of the business and in turn, the IT strategy gets the buy-in from the visionary head of the company — hopefully the person who the other business-line heads will fall in behind.

To lay the foundations for the best possible relationship, the CIO has to fulfill certain expectations from the CEO, according to Stephen Miles, at headhunters Heidrick & Struggles. Many of them resonate closely with the skills the CEO has to posess, but others are distinctly complementary. Here are the seven skills CIOs need to gain the trust of the top boss:

1. Can stand up to a stress test —One of the roles inside many corporations that has truly been stress-tested is that of CIO. Many of the major change and transformative programs have been delivered through technology, and the CIO has been at the epicenter of these initiatives. Some CIOs hold up well to the stress test of major challenges — including events such as systems failures — while others blow out.

2. Possessing a keen risk radar —The best CIOs go beyond just delivering the systems and technology to thinking broadly about risk. In some companies, the CIO has been instrumental in partnering with the head of risk to deliver the technological architecture for a company to manage and sniff out risk.

These CIOs not only try to manage risks but also try to proactively prevent them — by asking questions and using their broad tentacles into the entire organization to sniff out the whiffs of smoke before they become a forest fire.

3. Becoming immersed in the global geopolitical ecosystem —Many CIOs are not unilingual as it relates to geographic experience. In fact, many have lived and worked in many different geographies, and their reach inside the company is often across multiple states, countries, or continents.

As a result, they are often connected to broader ecosystems that would be complementary to those of the CEO but not the same, as CIOs often don’t have the requirements that CEOs have to build deep relationships with governments, regulators and shareholders.

However, CIOs are often connected to peer CIOs as well as customers who work and live across other ecosystems. This gives them a feel for what is changing around the globe, allowing them to be a key advisor to the CEO on matters beyond the core stereotypical CIO role.

4. Willingness to scrap old business models —Many of the tectonic shifts in business models have been created by new and disintermediating technologies in which the CIO is often immersed. Again, as a key advisor to the CEO and top executive team, the CIO can help the organization think through the risks and opportunities the shifting landscape provides.

For example, we are headed to a world where our mobile device becomes our digital wallet — which has massive implications for many companies (and not just in the payments industry) from a risk and reward perspective.

5. Being able to innovate their way into productivity gains —Many gains in productivity have been driven by advancements and innovations in information technologies that the CIO has brought to the business.

The savvy CIO, who is as much business executive as technology executive, is able to think expansively about how technology can foster both innovation in all aspects of product and service development and delivery as well as continued productivity gains inside the organization.

6. Taking governance seriously —Many of the risks imbedded in organizations are in the area of technology. Any CIO worth his or her weight has developed an enterprise governance model for technology that, of course, has implications for broader governance, given the reach of technology.

Forward-looking CIOs really think about governance models and how to manage risks within the framework. Part of their role is to educate and bring their board of directors on the journey to allow them to feel secure around the model. This model is complementary to the broader corporate governance for which the CEO is responsible.

7. Having a purpose —As part of the C-suite, the CIO must take a greater role in contributing to initiatives that can drive positive change throughout an organization. Whereas the old model of CIO was primarily inward-facing, no one in this role today can ignore the realities of what constituencies from regulators to customers to shareholders require of corporations.

The CIO touches so many areas that affect the public and the economy as a whole — from consumer privacy online to technology risk controls — that this role has transformed into one that demands a clearer set of responsibilities beyond just creating efficiencies.

These are all skills that CIOs as business leaders should develop, but Miles warns they don’t necessarily equip such people to move into the CEO role. He advises that to move into a general business leadership positions, a CIO must:

– Demonstrate that they are more than a technologist and show the rest of the management they can think like a broad-based business leader. – Learn how to make the shift from advisor as a functional expert to become the single point of owning decisions in the company. The buck stops at CEO, and this role is very uncomfortable for many people, especially those that have been in functional support roles. – Demonstrate a breadth and broader business and financial acumen – there may be need to move out of the CIO role and spend some time running your own business to develop these skills.

Stephen Miles is vice chairman of Heidrick & Struggles and head of the firm’s Leadership Advisory Services

Pic: quinn.anyacc2.0