istock 84665367 medium

The European Renaissance brought massive innovation to the world and redefined many cultural norms. If you’ll allow the comparison, we stand at a critical point in Corporate IT history, with the Renaissance of the CIO.

The arrival of smarter, faster and more flexible business technologies means traditional rules and strategies are being ripped up and replaced by new, innovative processes. As for CIOs, their role is changing rapidly.

Many IT leaders are finding themselves in an unprecedented position in the business, one where they can influence the direction of the company and the way it operates. 

No longer are they seen by the business merely as technology managers. Instead, they are expected to bring leadership and innovation - and drive revenues - based on their understanding and experience of both business and IT.

Meanwhile, many organisations are redefining their expectations of what their IT departments are capable of delivering. This is largely being driven by new ways of working within teams, and with customers and partners. It’s down to technologies such as cloud, mobile computing, social networking, data analytics and communication and collaboration.

The ironic thing is that as technology increasingly takes over more jobs, workflows and functions, you as a CIO need to be more human than ever before. It’s imperative you develop your softer skills in order to work well with business leaders, LOB managers, IT teams and partners.

The sorts of people skills you need to have include empathy, awareness, collegiality, influencing, communication and collaboration. Of course, it isn’t a sudden change: IT professionals have been on a long journey from the back room to the boardroom.

What has changed, however, is that businesses have come to expect these qualities in their CIOs. They need their IT leaders to be able to work with people across the company, translate IT into business terms, and cast vision. The CIO’s role almost sits above IT now, as they put business strategy and the customer first and find solutions to facilitate business objectives.

Another factor behind the changing role of the CIO is the customer (formerly known as the employee). With IT becoming more service-centric, CIOs need to deliver a combination of relevant IT services; meet end-user expectations; and reshape the expectations of governance models.

This growing expectation puts you in a fantastic position as a CIO. But you also need to stay on top of your game, which takes continuous professional development.

As well as expanding your own skill set, you also need to develop team capability in order to deliver business vision. This begins with knowing what their strengths are, and where the gaps lie.

A recent survey, from Harvey Nash and KPMG, discovered that two thirds of CIOs believe a lack of talent is preventing their organisation from keeping up with the pace of change.

The way you narrow that skills gap is by knowing what skills you have in your IT organisation, and acting on that information in a strategic way.

A well-crafted audit will tell you if you lack specialist IT skills that are needed in your business. Things like software engineering, app development, cyber security or data science. Or your team might lack specific digital skills, such as data access expertise, networking, or communication using digital tools.

You should also benchmark your teams against the industry, so you can identify gaps that could be filled by new talent, or by developing existing employees.

CIOs need to be creative in their people planning; working with HR to improve a team’s capability so they can create short, mid and long-term solutions to their skills gap.

Recruitment is just part it though; learning and development can tackle the bigger picture of the industry skills gap with wins in retention, improved colleague engagement scores, diversity (across age, gender, race and education), productivity, and team commitment. It also allows CIOs to craft a team to meet future business goals.

Career paths, apprenticeships, and leadership training  are just some of the options to consider when looking at the bigger picture.  All of these can then be turned into attractive propositions for the best candidates when recruitment is needed. 

You might also like to work with an external consultant on some of the issues raised here. For example, BCS, The Chartered Institute of IT, offers skills audits, team training, and leadership and development programmes.

In summary, the Renaissance of the CIO is bringing transformation to businesses through CIOs who demonstrate leadership and vision, and know how to apply disruptive technologies.

It puts you in a position to be creative around the changes you continually encounter. And by building your business’ digital capability, you can help ensure commercial success whilst delivering IT for the good of the business and its people too.