As we come to the end of another year, I am left contemplating what has happened in 2013 and, as director of professionalism at BCS, what strides the IT industry has made in establishing itself as the go-to profession for business change and strategy.
In 2013, we have seen a number of changes at the top, a recognition of the importance of digital strategy, the CTO and COO operating model as well as personality changes in the IT leadership functions of both private and public sector organisations. So what makes a good CIO? In 2014, what qualities will organisations be looking for in their IT leaders?
We recently interviewed a number of high-profile CIOs as part of our UK IT Industry awards and all of them overwhelmingly felt that one of the most important qualities of a good CIO is communication. Now this may not seem like anything revolutionary but in an age where email, LinkedIn and Twitter are all prominent channels for communicating, this skill is much harder to master than some might suspect. We have all probably fallen foul to a message not coming across correctly through electronic communications, so when you imagine the level of detail required and the time this can waste, a CIO needs to make sure they get this right first time.
A CIO acts as a translator within an organisation, taking the detailed and technical elements and putting them across in terms that the majority will be able to appreciate. This can be multi-lingual, with C-level members of an organisation grappling with the implications of C++. With much of what an IT department does almost being invisible to others, I believe that those CIOs who are able to master communication will prove to be game-changers for a business. The best way to do this is to relate everything to business outcomes.
The need for communication skills, does not detract from the fact that for a CIO to succeed they still need to maintain and evolve their technical knowledge or, as one of our interviewees put it, ‘craft their skill’. A good understanding of what you are doing ensures that the CIO is able to provide strong leadership and direction for their team to achieve relevance to the business through IT strategy. Communication skills would be wasted if a CIO had little understanding of what new technologies are emerging, such as smart machines and augmented reality, and how this can affect the business.
A transformative CIO is able to change the strategy of an organisation through technological insight: understanding new technologies and how they might impact their market, and therefore their relative position within it. To do this, a CIO needs to be fluent in finance, and not restricted to implementing and enabling only other people’s ideas.
So it is important that a CIO knows the business they are working in. For example, a CIO working for one of the major banks who doesn’t understand the impact of the regulatory environment will be ill equipped to provide solutions that meet the user need. It is not a cookie-cutter role and appreciating the problems that those working in the industry face can help a CIO make informed decisions.
For me, the difference between a good CIO and a great CIO is an ability to communicate the impact of technology decisions in terms of business outcomes. To do this, the CIO needs to be constantly adapting the capability of the organisation to meet advances in technologies likely to impact their sector. Disrupt your own organisation, before someone else does it for you...
Adam Thilthorpe is director of professionalism at BCS