by Martha Heller

Skills for the CIO Class of 2015

May 30, 20123 mins

IT management is changing. Here are some of the types of experience and knowledge that companies will be looking for in their CIOs.

In 2015, what skills will appear on job descriptions for Fortune 500 CIOs? I asked Peter High, author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs, for a list of requirements.

First there are the table stakes. These start, High says, with an undergraduate degree in engineering or computer science. While there are a growing number of CIOs with liberal arts backgrounds, they’re still in the minority, he points out. And while a CIO doesn’t have to have spent all of their career in IT, they do need some experience managing the IT function–recently, given how dynamic technology is.

Other table stakes include:

  • Vendor management experience, with at least some knowledge of how to develop outsourcing contracts that can be undone.
  • A solid understanding of governance, for handling increasingly complex teams with internal and external resources. “CIOs need a solid background in the use of development lifecycles, [project management offices], and other key governance practices,” High says.
  • Financial expertise, from understanding the ROI on technology investments to knowing how amortization schedules change with cloud computing.
  • Team leadership skills, including the humility to surround yourself with people smarter than you are and the foresight to groom your successors.

Next come the skills that raise the bar. The highlights of these start with an MBA, which isn’t necessary, but does have its advantages. “It is important for CIOs to strike a balance between technology skills and the exposure to the discipline that an MBA brings,” High says.

Other traits that High believes will provide a leg up:

  • Experience with corporate ups and downs, and with acquisitions and divestitures. Not everyone has to have gone through Chapter 11 or integrated a multi-billion dollar enterprise, but going through similar situations provides “a fuller arsenal of experience.” 
  • Exposure to external customers, which has been common in technology companies, but is becoming important now in a wider array of industries, High says.
  • Proven ability to innovate, because “CIOs operate as the central nervous system of the corporation and often have the vantage point to see opportunities for innovation before other executives, whether that innovation is IT driven or not.”
  • Consulting experience, which High notes, “suggests that candidates are familiar with a variety of environments and have a solid set of tools they can draw from to answer tough questions.”

And the following skills make a CIO candidate a no-brainer to hire:

  • Experience running a P&L. This will likely still be rare for CIOs in 2015, High says, but “it is great experience for learning all the levers of an organization. This tends to be the biggest differentiator for CIOs who make the leap to become CEOs.” Past leadership of non-IT functions is also a plus, as that often makes it easier to build partnerships with business peers.
  • Industry and geographic diversity. There’s no substitute for the deeper understanding gained by not just connecting to other industries or cultures, but actually spending time in them. 
  • Talent-supply-chain management, which High boils down to “CIOs who partner with universities and market IT to K-12 environments are doing than more than filling their own ranks; they are ensuring innovation and progress on a macro level.”

There you have it. If you possess these skills (and you may as well walk on water while you’re at it), apply today.

Martha Heller is the author of the upcoming book The CIO Paradox and she is president of Heller Search Associates, a CIO and senior IT executive recruiting firm. Follow her on Twitter: @marthaheller.