Cio skills

A Guide for the Transformational CIO: Skills to Acquire in 2021

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For the transformational CIO, skills must expand beyond IT operations and service management. 

While IT service management (ITSM) is still a crucial part of the CIO mandate, that mandate is also expanding to include quite a few other responsibilities. 


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Below, we’ll learn what those responsibilities are and what skills CIOs must acquire to fulfill their evolving role.

A Guide for the Transformational CIO: Skills to Acquire in 2021

According to IDG, 95% of CIOs state that their role is expanding beyond traditional IT responsibilities to embrace other areas, including:

  • Cybersecurity (64%)
  • Data privacy/compliance (49%)
  • Customer experience (46%)

A great many CIOs also identify as strategic or transformational CIOs, rather than just operational CIOs.

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These findings, which have also been echoed by a number of other studies, suggest that since the CIO’s role is evolving, their skill set must also evolve.

Here are a few new skills and qualities that CIOs should begin to acquire in 2021 and beyond:

People Management

People skills are a must for any manager or executive. 

Yet since CIOs are being required to lead more high-impact initiatives, such as organizational change efforts, soft skills and people management skills are more necessary than ever.

A few examples of these skills include:

  • Verbal and written communication 
  • Networking and relationship-building
  • Negotiation and persuasion
  • Leadership and team management

Skills such as these are not just “nice to have,” they will have a tangible impact on a CIO’s performance.

Change Management

In the modern era, technology drives innovation, disruption, and change – and since CIOs are technology leaders, they are often the ones who lead those disruptive changes.

Leading organizational change, however, is not easy. A number of change projects fail, either partially or completely.

Effective organizational change management can:

Achieving benefits such as these will require a bit of dedication and study, but, fortunately, there are quite a few change management training options that are both affordable and convenient. 

Prosci change management certifications, for instance, can be earned in a few days, either online or off.

Project Management

The more discrete projects a CIO undertakes, the more important it is to understand how to design, lead, and manage those projects.

Like change management, having project management skills can:

  • Streamline project execution
  • Reduce errors and inefficiencies
  • Improve the results of business projects

Also, like change management, there are quite a few project management training opportunities.

Business and Strategy

Today’s CIO must not only have a technical background, they must understand how to turn technology into profits – namely, they must also have a strong business sense.

Here are a few examples of business activities that transformational CIOs will need to engage in:

  • Aligning IT with business goals
  • Driving business innovation and digital transformation
  • Developing business strategy
  • Identifying growth opportunities in the marketplace

For operational CIOs who are mostly used to maintaining IT service, these types of efforts will require a different mindset and new skills.

Leadership and development courses, such as those offered at universities, can provide a solid foundation to build upon.

Innovation and Creativity

In an economy driven by change, innovation separates the winners from the losers. 

Innovation, after all, is the force that fuels disruption, the invention of new products, and the creation of new forms of value.

For CIOs, innovation can help with:

  • Business strategy
  • Designing customer and employee experiences
  • The development of new products and services
  • Competitive differentiation

Some believe that innovation and creativity are innate traits, while others believe that creativity is a learnable skill.

Even if creativity is not one’s strong suit, it is also possible to cultivate a culture of innovation with the appropriate incentives and mechanisms. At one point, for instance, Google dedicated one day a week to personal projects – some of which resulted in famous Google products.

IT Operations Management 

IT service management (ITSM) is another crucial skill that all CIOs must invest in. 

As mentioned earlier, transformational CIOs are spending more time on strategy and less on operations. 

Yet ITSM is still an essential skill to maintain.

Learning ITIL, COBIT, and other IT governance frameworks can be a good start. 

There are also courses and certifications that offer more generalized approaches to ITSM. For those who lack experience as CIOs or who want to keep up their skills, these can be a good choice.

Other IT Skills

Finally, as we saw above, many CIOs are being held responsible for a variety of other IT functions beyond ITSM.

To stay effective in their expanding role, CIOs should consider studying areas such as data science and cybersecurity.

It is also a good idea to keep up with emerging technologies, such as:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • IoT
  • Cloud computing
  • 5G
  • Automation

Naturally, every organization will have its own set of priorities, so it is important to focus on one’s own industry, role, and organization.

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