We want to challenge the view that the pinnacle for a career in IT is the role of CIO. I believe that in today’s digital economy, CIOs are strong candidates to be the next CEOs. Traditionally businesses across the globe tend to hire CEOs from accountancy stock, but I believe we are about to see a change as the role of IT continues to change the face of business.
We’ve been promoting the role of CIO for many years, championing them to make the move into the executive boardroom as the role of IT has changed within business and society in general. Our vision is for the next generation of digital leaders – the chief innovation officer - CIO 2.0. I believe this is a natural extension to the role of the CIO that will lead to the top seat.
IT is no longer a back room function, it has stepped into the boardroom itself – not in fixing the CEO’s laptop - but in enabling business to achieve dramatic change, whether to accommodate growth, achieve savings or deliver e-commerce. Indeed a recent Harvard Business Review article on Big Data highlighted that users don’t want IT projects, they want information services. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that the ‘I’ in CIO stands for information and not IT.
However, many organisations are unaware of what they need next and so it’s something that we’re going to have to define and manage for ourselves as IT professionals.
The path to CIO 2.0 may be challenging, but the rewards will make the journey worth taking. One of the first things CIOs need to do is shrug off the image of being a fixer of technology and therefore by association allowing themselves to be regarded as an IT manager - this disrupts the complete IT value chain to nobody’s advantage.
CIOs should be able to aspire to the CEO seat. It requires the so called 'soft' skills that supplement technical know how, and enable us to talk the language of the board. This is no trivial exercise as the skills armoury includes emotional intelligence, political awareness, service, people leadership, marketing, visioning, and business awareness. A modern day CIO should already have these skills or at least a subset of them, but now they’re more important than ever in taking the next career step.
Equally important is the need for a good team; the saying goes that you are only as good as your people. It’s important therefore for CIOs to ensure that standards and development programmes are in place to ensure consistent high quality across the team. In many respects, the skills a team needs are the skills that all leaders need.
This is truly an exciting time for the CIO. The role of IT in business has changed. IT is no longer a back office function; today CIOs and their teams lead business change, and, increasingly, innovation. This means the CIO needs to be at the cutting edge of the decision making and planning processes. Depending on how ahead of the technology curve the CIO is positioned, can mean the difference between opportunity and threat.
Boards should recognise that their CIOs are the hub of innovation, working across the business to drive change and enable better business. CIOs need to be fully conversant with the business challenges facing their organisation, whether private, public or third sector.
A key part of a CIO’s role is to work with board colleagues to develop and to own fully the organisation’s strategy. Technology leadership should become an essential and common path to the board if UK plc is going to continue to be equipped to compete on a global scale.
I, for one, am looking forward to the future where CIOs are not only on the board, but are also taking the lead as the CEO. Those organisations who embrace this will drive real progress and emerge as winners.