Compared to the CEO or CFO, the CIO is a relatively recent addition to the executive hierarchy. The origins of this role date back to the mid-1950s when computing started to enter the workplace. But since then, the role has undergone some of the most dramatic changes – from managing early computers’ data processing functions to helping shape an organisation’s entire strategy.
Sam Palmisano, IBM’s CEO, argues that it’s essential for technology executives to step up and help their companies deal with the opportunities and stresses of globalisation and the emergence of disruptive new technologies, including cloud computing, social networking, advanced analytics and mobile communications.
To reflect on the increasing remit of the modern CIO, here are three essential skills information officers need to have to today in order to make a real difference to their organisation in 2017.
LinkedIn recently unveiled its 2016 list of Global Top Skills, which, unsurprisingly, revealed that data and cloud reign supreme. It found that cloud and distributed computing has remained in the #1 spot for the past two years and is the top skill on almost every country’s list — including France, Germany, Ireland, the U.S., and Spain. “I smell a dynasty in the making!” commented LinkedIn’s career expert Catherine Fisher on this result.
It won’t come as a surprise that these skills are in such high demand, because they’re at the cutting edge of technology. You therefore might imagine they would also need to be present on any CIO’s CV? Wrong. According to a study by BT, they simply aren’t on the list.
Instead, CIOs need to have flexibility to work with new business models, be open to try new ideas and be able to take on feedback. This reflects not only how the CIO is becoming more influential in the boardroom, leading the way on creative disruption, but also the shifting role of the IT department to become a business partner of other departments.
This is much broader business skillset than technologists are used to and include the ability to be strategic, creative, growth minded and cost conscious. Does that mean that technical knowledge isn’t important? Of course not – those are the skills that enable an individual to become a CIO in the first place.
Modern CIOs need to develop the ‘maker’ instinct. They must be able to exploit their inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making. Innovation is key to success and growth and as a business leader, a CIO should be constantly on the toes to explore various avenues.
So be bold. It’s the only way for you to stand out and make a difference in your organisation. Jane Hughes, Programme Director at the UK’s digital government body GOV.UK, sums up what this means:
“Being bold means bringing your whole self to the situation and engaging fully with it. It involves openness, optimism and a commitment to something bigger than yourself.
Some of the greatest innovations happened this way. Imagine Henry Ford building the Model T, or Steve Jobs developing the iPhone. These ideas revolutionised their industries but could only be achieved by bold leaders who had the courage of their convictions.
In the TV show ‘Undercover Boss’, senior executives go undercover in their own companies to investigate how their firms really work and to identify how they can be improved. The show has been a global phenomenon and truly eye-opening for the participants. In Europe, bosses from Eismann, ASFiNAG and npower have all partaken in the experiment. Within a few weeks on the shop floor, senior executives regularly learn more than from office meetings, reports, email, and even more reports.
In a similar sentiment, Taiichi Ohno, considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System, once said: “Don't look with your eyes, look with your feet. Don't think with you head, think with your hands.”
If you want to know what's happening, you have to spend a lot of time where your teams are actually working. This will enable CIOs to perform one of their key leadership roles - being an organisational un-blocker and a resolver of issues. Staying true to the position’s technological routes, intelligent systems, the smart application of data and digital innovation are all likely to play a part in unlocking efficiencies and improved workflows but it’s increasingly up to the CIO not just to enable the technology, but to identify the opportunities for it to improve the business.