Cio skillset

A Must-Have CIO Skillset for the Digital Economy

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With the growing importance of digital technologies in today’s business world, the CIO’s role is evolving and, as a result, the CIO skillset must also evolve. 

Many organizations, for instance, now expect their IT leaders to become strategic business partners who can deliver bottom-line profits and measurable outcomes. 


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In order to do remain relevant and competitive, they must develop a new set of skills that can help them navigate the constantly changing world of technology and business.

Why the CIO Must Adapt to the Changing Times

Typically, the CIO (Chief Information Officer) is the highest-ranking IT executive in an organization. The CIO is responsible for designing, implementing, and maintaining an organization’s information systems and technologies. 

In recent years, however, CIOs are being held responsible for a diverse range of duties, above and beyond IT operations. 

Here are just a few areas that today’s CIO must focus on:

  • Data management and analytics 
  • Cloud computing and virtualization 
  • Project and portfolio management 
  • Digital workflow design and management 
  • Cybersecurity 
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery management 
  • IT strategy management 
  • Business strategy

In the modern organization, a CIO’s success largely depends on having a skillset that spans both technical IT knowledge as well as generalized business knowledge.

A Must-Have CIO Skillset for the Digital Economy

To deliver value to their organizations, CIOs must be IT specialists who are well-rounded and can offer value in many areas of the business.

For instance:

  • CIOs must have a set of business skills that complements their technical skills. Gartner, among other research firms, has demonstrated that CIOs are increasingly being held responsible for business outcomes. This means that CIOs need to have a keen business sense, the ability to lead business projects, an understanding of technology’s role in their organization’s strategy, and more.
  • Innovation has become a core business driver, and CIOs must be the ones to lead that innovation. Digital innovation has been a central factor in the disruption that has reshaped the modern economy. In the years ahead, we will see further disruption from a variety of new technologies, from AI to VR to IoT. CIOs must be ready to protect their organizations from disruption, and one of the best ways to do that is by being the disruptor, not the disrupted.
  • As full-fledged members of the C-suite, CIOs must have strong managerial and leadership skills. CIOs will often lead a variety of business initiatives, from organizational changes to digital transformation projects to digital upskilling programs. Since they are being asked to lead cross-functional teams, often in high-stakes projects, it is crucial that CIOs have soft skills, communication skills, management skills, and leadership skills.
  • CIOs themselves must be flexible, adaptable, and agile. The more that the CIO’s role changes, the more adaptable and flexible CIOs must be to keep up with those changes. This flexibility can mean several things, depending on the situation, such as proactively adopting more responsibility, expanding one’s own skillset, leaving one’s comfort zone, or all of the above. 
  • Since CIOs will frequently be leading change projects, it will be important to understand change management. Change management, the business discipline of leading and managing change, has a significant impact on the outcomes of change projects. To maximize the outcomes of their change projects, CIOs should understand the principles of change management and work closely with expert change managers. Or, for organizations undergoing significant change, it may be a good idea to build an in-house change management function.
  • Learning digital adoption strategies can streamline and improve digital transformation projects. Digital adoption strategies are designed to improve software onboarding, training, and long-term support. By improving how quickly employees and customers can adopt new software, CIOs will accomplish several goals. For instance, by improving digital adoption in the workplace, CIOs can reduce software-related frustration, enhance employee training, shorten learning curves, and improve the outcomes of digital change projects.

In short, CIOs must think of themselves not as IT managers, but as business leaders. And like other business executives, they must possess a skillset that is both wide and deep.

While this may seem daunting to those used to IT service management (ITSM), the more responsibilities that CIOs adopt, the more valuable and marketable they’ll be.

Final Thoughts: Action Items for the CIO

What set of skills should CIOs focus on?

The answer depends on the situation – one’s own career goals, the organization’s needs, and the demands of the marketplace.

Some organizations, such as government agencies, may requires less in the way of customer-centered innovation, for instance. Companies in the private sector, however, may request their CIOs to lead the development of innovative, customer-centered products.

Factors such as these should strongly influence a CIO’s decision when choosing which skills to focus on. 

One point to keep in mind, however, is that the role of the CIO will continue to change in the coming years – so it is important not only to focus on the present state of the CIO, but on how the job will evolve in the future.

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