Chief information officer cio

How to Become a Chief Information Officer (CIO)

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How do you become a Chief Information Officer (CIO) at a company?

In this post, we’ll learn what skills, education, and background it takes to succeed at this position. 

First, though, it’s important to understand exactly what CIOs do and how this position is changing.


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What Is a Chief Information Officer (CIO)?

The short answer is that the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is in charge of a company’s IT systems.

Since modern enterprises are built on IT, however, it is important to dive a bit deeper to better understand what CIOs do.

Traditionally, CIOs have been responsible for operational tasks such as:

  • Deploying, maintaining, and upgrading IT systems and software
  • Managing IT service delivery and changes
  • Ensuring that IT systems operate effectively and meet performance expectations
  • Working with the C-suite to ensure that all business units have the requisite IT infrastructure to meet their needs
  • Analyzing budgets, costs, and benefits of IT investments to meet budget requirements
  • Working with vendors to procure and install new technology

In short, the CIO has been an IT operations manager, responsible for the maintenance of IT systems and tools. For this reason, many have considered CIOs to be “back office” managers, rather than business leaders.

However, in today’s enterprise, the CIO’s role is changing rapidly.

Rather than simply being responsible for IT operations, CIOs are now becoming responsible for revenue generation, business outcomes, and digital strategy.

Naturally, the duties of a CIO will vary from company to company.

However, in leading enterprises, CIOs are becoming more and more responsible for tasks such as:

CIOs are, in summary, becoming senior business executives, rather than just IT operations managers.

Those interested in becoming a CIO should bear this in mind, since the future CIO will require a vastly different background than the CIOs of the past several years.

Next, let’s look at a few tips that can help one prepare for a career as a CIO.

How to Become a CIO: 3 Tips

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when charting a career path for the CIO position:

Build a skill set as a leader, not just a technician

CIOs must become business leaders, as well as IT leaders, as we saw above.

This means that prospective CIOs must develop a different skill set than IT services managers. 

Technical skills a still important, of course. However, to succeed as a business executive, leadership skills are a must.

These include:

  • Soft skills, such as communication skills, people skills, and networking skills
  • The ability to negotiate and persuade
  • A willingness and ability to take the helm of IT teams and cross-functional teams

There are certainly many thought leaders who have explained what it takes to become a strong leader. 

Anyone interested in becoming a CIO should therefore spend a great deal of time researching such material and putting it into practice.

Keep up with technology-driven change – and learn to innovate

Digital technology has altered the very way we live, operate, and work. 

For years, it has also been the chief force driving economic change and disruption.

To keep up in this era of change, businesses are required to not only adopt new technology, but innovate in order to gain a competitive advantage.

Since CIOs are the leading technical experts in a business, it often falls upon their shoulders to:

  • Design and develop digital business strategies
  • Leverage data- and technology-driven innovation to gain an edge in the marketplace
  • Adopt and exploit emerging technology to improve organizational performance

In other words, CIOs will need to not only maintain IT operations and lead business initiatives, as mentioned above. They will also need to use technology to innovate and disrupt their competition.

Again, this mindset differs from the traditional expectations that have been placed upon CIOs.

It pays, therefore, to understand what these new expectations are. And it is crucial to acquire the appropriate experience to succeed in that role – assuming, of course, that this “new CIO role” fits one’s own skills, personality, and career goals.

Proactively pursue the right experience and education

IT certifications and technical experience are definitely useful. 

CIOs are, after all, typically recruited from technical positions. However, since CIOs must become business savvy or even business-first executives, it is crucial to round out one’s education and experience.

Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Ensure that one has the appropriate technical background, certifications, and experience to meet the organization’s needs
  • Attend conferences that can expand one’s horizon beyond IT operations, such as digital transformation conferences and CIO summits
  • Build relationships with key leaders from other departments
  • Study other areas that can benefit one’s career as a business leader, such as leadership skills, managerial skills, project management skills, digital leadership, and change management 
  • Pursue projects within one’s organization that can provide hands-on leadership experience, project management experience, and so forth

To sum up: First, outline the requirements of the CIO’s role. Then, intentionally acquire the skills, education, and experience needed to succeed in that role.

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