by The Editors

WANTED: The Best CIO – The Ideal And The Reality

Apr 01, 20057 mins
IT Leadership

A guide for building the most effective CIO position possible, and a test to assess the state of your own role.

What makes a good CIO today? What should a CIO be responsible for? What are the best traits for the job? CIO has been posing these fundamental questions for nearly two decades. The answers have changed over time, but they’ve never been more critical than they are today. The CIO position is undergoing a bifurcation, with a growing gap between the strategic leaders who leverage IT to drive the business, and the stewards of data and systems whose purpose largely is to cost-manage what is perceived as a commodity. Because all types of CIOs turn to this publication to learn from their peers, the editors must respect a variety of needs. But if you ask us what the CIO ought to be, we have one answer: a strategic business leader.

The ideal CIO position—the one that will bring the most benefit to the most companies—is defined by a finite set of responsibilities, accountabilities and essential skills. We’ve collected these job elements into a simple, digestible document, formatted as a CIO “job spec” from a hypothetical company that understands the value of IT. The spec was developed by drawing upon data from many studies of the role, and from extensive input from CIOs and executive recruiters. It was refined and finalized jointly with the CIO Executive Council, a professional association of CIOs founded by CIO.

It’s one thing to know the ideal; it’s another to see where you stand against it. Our self-assessment test lets you see how the role in your company stacks up against our ideal. We hope that IT leaders, and the executives who hire them and shape company attitudes toward IT, will use both the specification and the test as guides for crafting, assessing and refining the CIO role.

Position Specification

Chief Information Officer

The Best Practices Co. Inc.

The Company

A global company with a long history, the Best Practices Co. is committed to achieving and maintaining market leadership through a business strategy that emphasizes competitive differentiation and customer loyalty. The company recognizes that its employees are its most valuable assets and that knowledge and information are critical to its success. Click here to get this Ideal CIO Position Specification in PDF format.

The Position

The CIO drives the development and delivery of world-class systems and services, as well as a technology architecture that will enable our business strategy. The CIO is responsible for ensuring that our technology strategy converges and integrates with the strategy and goals of the corporation and its business units.


The CIO is an integral member of the company’s executive committee, and as such participates in all committee tasks and responsibilities. In addition, the CIO is expected to form a strategic IT governance committee (inclusive of key business leaders) to prioritize business initiatives that leverage technology. The governance committee reports to the board of directors on critical issues relating to competitive advantage, operational risk, security and regulatory compliance.

The CIO reports directly to the CEO but also works closely with the executive leading day-to-day operations (for example, the president or COO). The CIO has two main constituencies: other executive peers and P&L unit leaders.


As appropriate for our size and structure, IT employees are dispersed within business units but report directly to the CIO’s IT organization. The CIO also oversees a core group of IT staff that provides cross-enterprise services. The CIO defines and executes an agile sourcing strategy, while maintaining a substantial core of IT managers and key employees internally.


As head of the global IT organization, the CIO holds accountability and authority for all of the company’s IT aspects. These fall into three categories:

1. Core IT concerns—including infrastructure, architecture and standards-setting, application development and maintenance, integration and data integrity.

2. Business applications—the CIO must apply an architectural knowledge of applications at the enterprise and business unit levels and must show expertise with the mission-critical applications, while delegating day-to-day responsibilities to direct reports as befits our complex, heterogeneous organization.

3. Enterprisewide concerns—including business processes and workflows, security and privacy, risk management (including business continuity and compliance) and quality improvement. The CIO sets policies in collaboration with other executives as appropriate and delivers necessary tools and systems.

The CIO’s organization is responsible and accountable for selecting, approving and managing all major procured IT products and services, including anything that touches multiple business functions and processes or requires significant internal IT support. The CIO periodically reviews all major IT contracts entered into by the Best Practices Co.

The CIO must manage the IT department in an efficient, cost-effective and transparent manner, benchmarking costs against commercial service providers. The CIO should apply best practices to IT project management, such as prototyping, tracking and post-implementation auditing. In major IT capital initiatives, the CIO or a designee partners with a business unit sponsor to establish a business case, and to share ownership and accountability for the project and its outcomes. The CIO oversees the IT department’s formal leadership development program, working with HR to identify candidates for leadership tracks and succession planning, and to create a curriculum that emphasizes business and people skills.

The Candidate

To fulfill the many demands of the position, the CIO must have considerable years of diverse experience and a variety of skills related to managing technology, business and people.


Successful candidates will have a technology background, with experience in both infrastructure and applications development, complemented by demonstrated business knowledge, such as experience leading a P&L unit. Business knowledge must be relevant to the operational environment of our vertical industry or market.

The candidate will have demonstrated financial and accounting acumen. The CIO will also have a proven ability to prioritize competing demands.

The candidate must have substantial management experience in these categories:

  • Large, distributed IT environments
  • Global resource and project management
  • Staffing and sourcing alternatives, including remote, contract and outsourced
  • Matrixed organizational structure
  • Crisis response and recovery


The CIO must be able to envision and articulate IT’s role in enabling and driving innovation, competitive differentiation, customer loyalty and efficiency for the company. Communication and interpersonal skills are essential—including the capacity to articulate the case for IT investments and alternatives in the language of business; the ability to shape and manage expectations of IT at all levels of the organization; and a facility in building effective relationships with corporate officers, function heads, business partners and suppliers.

Likewise, strong leadership and management skills are critically important—including the capacity for motivating IT employees; cultivated people skills (including the ability to sense and empathize with employee concerns); coaching, teaching and mentoring ability; a track record of hiring, developing and retaining critical talent and of building an effective management team.

Finally, the candidate’s personality and values must make a good fit with the culture and core principles of the Best Practices Co.

Performance Measures

The CIO’s job performance will be measured against achievements strategically important to the business, and performance objectives will be determined on that basis. IT operational excellence is a basic expectation.

CIO compensation will be tied to the demonstrated financial value of IT to the enterprise, as well as internal customer satisfaction goals.

The editors wish to thank the following people for their help in constructing this ideal job spec for the CIO role:

  • Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin P. Allegretti, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command
  • Beverly Lieberman, President, Halbrecht Lieberman Associates
  • Jory J. Marino, Managing Partner, Heidrick & Struggles
  • Eric J. Sigurdson, Managing Director, Russell Reynolds Associates