Much has been made of CIOs\u2019 need for business and leadership skills. To be truly transformational leaders, today\u2019s CIOs must be adept at helming high-performing teams, guided by a keen understanding of how to co-create value with business colleagues.\n\nBut technical skills, often relegated to the second tier of an IT leader\u2019s necessary skill set, can give CIOs a level of digital dexterity that will help advance not only their organization\u2019s digital initiatives but also their own careers.\n\n\u201cCIOs must own their role evolution and shape and execute new actions throughout digitalization \u2014 evangelist, orchestration and foundations engineering,\u2019\u2019 wrote Gartner in the 2021 report \u201cExecutive Essentials: Evolve Your Role as CIO.\u201d\n\nYet, only 47% of CTOs and 45% of CIOs are digitally-savvy, according to the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at the MIT Sloan School of Management. These IT leaders stunt both their organizations\u2019 outlooks and their own prospects for advancement, as a tech know-how deficit on company boards means CIOs with digital skills are now more likely to earn a seat in the boardroom.\n\nSo, just as employees are being upskilled in technologies to advance their careers, CIOs should, too.\n\n\u201cThere\u2019s an innate nature of the CIO to always be thirsty for knowledge and be learning,\u2019\u2019 says Craig Richardville, chief digital and information officer at Intermountain Healthcare. \u201cFor many of us, including myself, we don\u2019t consider ourselves experts but students who can learn and turn around and teach others.\u201d\n\nIT leaders and industry experts weigh in on what differentiates today\u2019s digital-savvy CIOs from the pack, as well as the tactics they employ to keep current on technical skills \u2014 paving the way for future success.\n\nThey delve into analytics and AI\n\nToday\u2019s workers need to understand how to glean insights from a data platform in a self-serve way, says Evan Huston, chief digital officer at Saatva, a luxury mattress and bedding company. \u201cOur approach to data engineering is to enable end users to build their own dashboards off of clean data. Two specific skills I\u2019ve had to learn to then help others are creating dashboards in our BI tool and becoming more sophisticated with Google Analytics.\u201d\n\nKim Huffman, CIO of TripActions, a business travel management, corporate card, and expense management company, admits that earlier in her career she was \u201ccloser to the technology than I am now.\u201d But Huffman says she tries to stay current, particularly in emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning.\n\nSkills like cloud and data analytics \u201care examples [of] where CIOs\/IT leaders must excel and demonstrate their ability to execute these strategies in alignment with business needs,\u2019\u2019 says Len Peters, faculty director of the CIO Senior Executive Program at New York University, who most recently took a data science certification course in AI at MIT.\n\nThey cement some cybersecurity knowledge\n\nIt behooves CIOs to not assume cybersecurity is the sole purview of the CISO. COVID has provoked an increase in cyber threats and introduced new challenges in how people work by nature of being fully remote, says Saatva\u2019s Huston. \n\n\u201cYears ago, having a password with numbers in it was considered secure but the past few years, in particular, have brought about the need for employees to understand not only two-factor authentication but how to use password managers and authenticator apps in order to protect systems and data,\u201d Huston says.\n\nCIOs must keep their security knowledge up with the times in this rapidly evolving landscape to implement and advocate for updated best practices across the organization, he says.\n\nTripActions\u2019 Huffman believes it is important for CIOs to better understand how endpoints interact and to learn about extended detection and response (XDR) tools. She is particularly interested in this area \u201cbecause we\u2019re not going to be able to match the rapid acceleration [of threats] with humans.\u201d That makes it critical to utilize machine learning and AI, collectively share security information across vendors and companies, and develop models for detection and response, she says.\n\nThey learn from vendors and peers\n\nIn addition to attending conferences and programs, CIOs should spend time with vendors. \u201cCut through the sales talk to understand their solutions and roadmaps,\u2019\u2019 says Peters, who is also a member of the board of advisors at the CIOInstitute.\n\n\u201cAs a CIO, having a vendor management function can help you dig through vendor offerings and work with your enterprise architects to build your own roadmaps,\u201d he says.\n\nVendors can share a lot of knowledge on new technologies through their conferences, says Huffman, who also does a lot of leadership networking to gain insights on new tech.\n\nIntermountain\u2019s Richardville goes beyond his healthcare network to connect with people from industries \u201cI feel that are more advanced in their digital initiatives than healthcare, that have truly applied it and seen success,\u2019\u2019 he says, such as IT leaders in banking and retail. Doing so has helped Richardville better understand how they have \u201ctransitioned from a high labor workforce to automating work internally.\u2019\u2019\n\nClaire Rutkowski, senior vice president and CIO of Bentley Systems, an infrastructure engineering software company, says they offer digital twins, which \u201crequires a change in mindset.\u201d As CIO, \u201cyou have to be able to sell that story and understand that story and be able to show the advantages of using that technology,\u2019\u2019 she says. \u201cDo I have to know digital twins inside out? No. I just know how it will further the company\u2019s goals and outcomes.\u201d\n\nRutkowski says she has \u201ca large network of peers and experts in the tech arena,\u201d so when she needs to hone skills in machine learning and automation, \u201cI have plenty of people I can go to.\u2019\u2019\n\nThey immerse themselves in research\n\nCIOs should also immerse themselves in emerging technology research by keeping up on the latest research blogs and reports, and by attending conferences, observes Tori Paulman, senior director analyst at Gartner. \u201cEvery moment, every touchpoint a CIO has with emerging technologies can be the education they need \u2014 if they\u2019re open-minded.\u201d\n\nBut Paulman advises IT leaders to avoid a scattershot approach, instead homing in on how potential difference-making technologies can impact their business. \u201cIf they come back from a conference with five new technologies to throw at their organization, my opinion is that won\u2019t lead to success,\u2019\u2019 Paulman says, adding that digital savviness is about understanding technology and how it applies to their needs.\n\n\u201cWe see a lot of CIOs learn about the technology, but they don\u2019t take the time to learn about the applicability or take the time to take other people along with them,\u2019\u2019 Paulman says. \u201cSo it\u2019s lost time.\u201d\n\nThey invest in talent\n\nCIOs come in many different forms, Peters says, and good CIOs will hire strong teams to ensure they have the right mix of skills to cover all the necessary functions. \u201cWith digital transformation being such a high priority, the real key takeaway is that business skills are a must; tech skills can be hired,\u201d he says, adding that \u201cthe small caveat is the CIO must still be able to translate the tech solutions into business benefits.\u201d\n\nBentley Systems\u2019 Rutkowski makes no bones about the fact that she is \u201cnot a deep technologist.\u2019\u2019 She has, however, been gaining more knowledge about how to apply machine learning to automated workflows, she says, so \u201cI can deliver more efficiencies to Bentley\u2019s systems by doing that.\u201d\n\nBut for the most part, to be more digital-savvy, Rutkowski leans on her team.\n\n\u201cI feel a CIO is very much like a conductor of an orchestra. Technology is changing so quickly \u2026 there is no way any one person can keep up with everything,\u2019\u2019 she explains. \u201cFor me, it\u2019s about having the right people on the team.\u201d\n\nGartner\u2019s Paulman also sees the digital-savvy CIO\u2019s role as more of an orchestrator who may not need deep hands-on experience with a technology, more the ability to translate what that emerging technology means for the company\u2019s outcomes.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s being able to understand through their education and their experiences the impact these emerging technologies will have on their organization\u2019s success,\u2019\u2019 Paulman says. And a key understanding that can come by educating oneself on digital technologies is the ability to recognize and attract key talent \u2014 from all parts of the business, she says. \u201cThis is important because there\u2019s less [external] talent.\u201d\n\nThis sentiment is shared by Orla Daly, CIO of Skillsoft. \u201cWhile sometimes you have no choice but to look externally for these skills, investing in internal talent will generate the most success in closing skills gaps,\u2019\u2019 Daly says. \u201cInternal team members already know your business and are vested in its success, and most high-performing employees crave development opportunities.\u201d\n\nThey seek out developers and Gen Z tech workers\n\nWith such huge technical advances and specialization coming in the years ahead in areas such as AI, virtual reality, and quantum computing, Helena Nimmo, CIO of UK-based Endava, has discovered she can learn a lot about the application of new technology and techniques by talking with developers.\n\n\u201cThey have a unique bottoms-up perspective that is helpful,\u201d she says.\n\nShe also finds \u201cthat Gen Z technology workers think differently than my generation about how technology is used and applied to business. They will continue to heavily influence future solutions, so we can learn a lot from our younger team members through their unique perspectives.\u201d\n\nThey always keep the business in their sights\n\nNYU\u2019s Peters believes that even as the CIO role evolves into a business leader, they cannot continue to lead without attaining new digital skills. \u201cSuccessful CIOs today and in the future must be \u2018business technology leaders.\u2019 This is someone that has the three pillars of skills: business, technology, and the operational functions of IT,\u201d he says.\n\nTripAction\u2019s Huffman agrees that CIOs must keep their digital skills sharp to drive various organizational objectives. \u201cIf they\u2019ve got a good team, they can rely on them for insight, but \u2026 you can\u2019t be far removed or I don\u2019t think you\u2019ll be able to do your job effectively,\u201d she says.\n\nBut as Saatva\u2019s Huston says, for CIOs, self-education on technical topics is ultimately all about fulfilling business needs: \u201cOnce I\u2019ve investigated a problem area, I can help employees understand it and make better strategic build vs. buy decisions.\u201d\n\nThis emphasis on attaining digital skills to vet their business impact is \u201cabsolutely critical,\u201d Paulman says, adding that digital transformation is now a top priority and \u201cwe\u2019re seeing a significant shift in funding from IT to the business for the purposes of digital transformation\u201d initiatives.\n\n\u201cCIOs who cannot bridge the gap between emerging technologies and their broad applicability to the business will be commoditized,\u2019\u2019 Paulman says. \u201cWe will see the IT role [become] more about operational fitness and security and less about driving the transformation businesses need.\u201d\n\nThis means CIOs are at a critical crossroads, Paulman says. They need to be a source of knowledge about emerging technologies and be able to tap into their business knowledge to bring the right people together to form blended teams.