CIOs need more than technical skills to thrive

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Visionary and advisor roles now expectations for chief information officers

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20 February 2020 | 0

What it takes to be a chief information officer (CIO) is changing.

Being a pure technologist is no longer either a base requirement, or the sole basis from which to start.

Technical skills are just part of a basic set of skills required by today’s CIO.

Speaking to TechPro last year, government CIO, Barry Lowry said the merger of soft skills and business skills with technical skills is what matters for a CIO.

“It’s very much about understanding what the business is about. There’s a huge difference in being an expert in technology and being an expert in technology-led business transformation. You need to understand what the benefit is,” said Lowry.

According to Forbes, five years ago the average CIO would say tech know-how was the most important skill they could have to discharge there job properly, whereas now they say it is contributing to the business.

Into this mix, of changing requirements and duties, also comes the central theme of business transformation, much of which is digitally driven, and consequently, down to the CIO’s department to implement, manage and operate.

Ultimately, this is all a manifestation of digital transformation, says Ger Perdisatt, enterprise director at Microsoft. “A lot of these CIOs see both the opportunity and the challenge, and what they’re trying to do is move their contribution from running the technology to transforming the business.” 

This is something Francis O’Haire, group technology director, DataSolutions, largely agrees with, adding the role of advisor.

“I think the CIO… needs to be an influencer, needs to be an advisor,” said O’Haire.

This does not mean forgetting about the core business of technology and, indeed, few businesses elevate employees without technical skills to the role of CIO. Tech skills remain essential, but they alone are not enough — and this can create a tension in the role, said O’Haire.

Perdisatt elaborates on the point of understanding the business, and the role technology plays within it.

“If you look at what CIOs have been asked to build, a lot of it is about understanding the wider business, understanding how business and technology are changing,” he said. 

This presents difficulties, not least of which is a new language to learn, but also opportunities for career progression.

“CIOs have a chance of being CEO. When I met with CIOs previously, you met them and their [own] functional heads. Now I might be meeting them with a functional head of sales. The role is being un-levelled within the organisations, out from underneath the COO or CTO,” said Perdisatt.

“One of the big questions I would have now is what exactly does the ‘I’ in CIO stand for? Now it’s far more oriented toward the insights it can bring rather than just the infrastructure. Someone who just keeps the infrastructure running is not someone you’ll be looking to for the strategic future of the company.”

With the role and expectations of the CIO changing so rapidly in the context of the digital transformation of business, the TechLive Careers event, “How to be a CIO” will present the experience of three Irish CIOs, and how they came to the C-Suite position.

With their experiences informed by recruitment and skills experts for today’s environments and considerations, attendees of the event will gain a critical insight into how they might develop their own career prospects towards a seat the board table.

How to be a CIO will hear from the 2019 CIO of the Year, Tim Hynes of AIB, as well as industry veteran Karen Forte, former CIO at Allianz, and now consultant; and Brona Kernan, former IT director of Irish Times Group and Ryanair, now IT director with Zurich.

The event, taking place on 29 April, at the RDS Concert Hall, Dublin, is free to attend, but registration is required.

The event is open to IT professionals who are looking to map a path from technical disciplines towards management, and ultimately, to the C-suite.

Also present will be a select group of companies with whom attendees can discuss the for those next steps.

See techlive.careers for more details.

TechCentral Reporters

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