4 skills chief information officers need to get ahead in 2018

4 skills chief information officers need to get ahead in 2018

You’d think this digital day and age would be a golden time for chief information officers (CIOs) – after all, they should be more integral to an organisation than ever. But the rise of tech-savvy executives like chief digital officers, chief marketing officers and chief analytics officers means a CIO’s influence and budget are being squeezed from all sides, while their accountability for security and stability remains sky high. The result can sometimes mean that CIOs become so risk-averse (perhaps rightly so?), that they lack the innovation mindset to keep moving the business forward.

It seems that being an effective CIO today, is much less about having specialised IT knowledge and much more about being able to make sound, secure business decisions. Trends support this: according to Gartner, by 2021, 40% of IT staff will be versatilists holding multiple roles, most of which will be business-related rather than technology-related.

If you’re on the fast-track to chief information officer, or even there already, don’t allow yourself to be relegated to a seat away from the table. Here are 4 skills all chief information officers need to get ahead – and stay ahead – in today’s fast-paced landscape.


When you reach the upper echelons of the C-suite, it can be somewhat surprising that the skills that got you to that position are no longer the skills needed to thrive there. Transitioning from being a manager to being a leader is challenging for anyone – and it can be especially challenging for CIOs who have spent a large part of their career honing specialist IT skills.

CIOs can also often struggle against perception gaps in their organisation. A survey by EY found that while 60% of CIOs felt they strongly helped to enable fact-based decision-making when setting corporate strategy, only 35% of their C-suite peers agreed.

To combat this, CIOs need to move beyond simply putting out fires to initiating and delivering ambitious change management projects. This of course entails risk on the CIO’s part – but with great risk comes great reward.

As Gartner writes in their report entitled “Leadership in the Digital Age”:

Digital disruption means that most organizations no longer know where to go next, what is coming toward them, or even who they will be competing with and how. Since technology is at the heart of the disruption and the uncertainty it causes, who better to help lead us forward than the CIOs and IT leaders whose past successes have made this revolution happen? But that means stepping up and outward — from follower and supporter to visionary, explorer and co-creator. CIOs will need to become technology-savvy business leaders, much more than business-savvy technology leaders.


As mentioned, being a successful CIO today is not simply about having specialist knowledge about IT – it’s also about having a deep understanding about how this technology impacts people, both inside and outside the business, and how being able to communicate this effectively is what sets true leaders apart.

Ranked as the second most important skill for CIOs by both chief information officers and other C-suite executives in a survey by EY, good communication and influencing skills are key to successful change management – and this includes any digital transformation initiatives.

Executive coach Tim Chilvers of communication skills training program The Colin James Method recommends the following techniques when communicating digital transformation to co-workers:

  • Put the audience at the heart of your message: Place yourself in your audience’s shoes, and be sure to answer the question “What’s in it for them?”
  • Use language that inspires: Storytelling can be a powerful way to engage an audience.
  • Develop a strong presence: Be mindful of your voice and body language, and moderate these to support your message.
  • Pick the right delivery method: Ensure the delivery method suits the circumstances and needs of both you and your audience.


When executives are struggling for control over the business’s technology, this is counter-productive. Rather than engaging in turf wars, businesses stand to gain much more when their executive team collaborates, with each person bringing their unique strengths to the table.

In order to be seen as an equal member of this team, CIOs need to “speak the language of the business” – that is, they need to understand how processes work across the organisation, and be able to advise on ways to help that area of the business, and the business as a whole, rather than being the gatekeeper who always says no. After all, if you keep saying no, eventually your team will exclude you from the conversation altogether.

By using a more consultative approach, CIOs can cultivate their influence and create an environment in which their leadership and expertise is valued and sought out.

As Scott Kitlinski, CIO for cloud consultancy Astadia, says, “They should think of themselves as chief relationship officers for IT. Then you realise you have to build relationships and rapport with the business people, who will recognise that you're only just trying to help. You're not trying to mandate; you're trying to understand what their needs are and find the best answer.”

Data analysis

Businesses are becoming ever more customer-centric, and at the heart of this customer-centricity is data. Reams of data are being collected to build a complete and ever-evolving picture of the customer, and while CIOs may be intimately involved in the implementation of the technology required to accumulate and analyse this data, they can sometimes have surprisingly little know-how about what the data is in fact saying about customers, or how to actually use the data to gain a competitive advantage.

“I ask my peers how much they’re investing in education on basic analytics, forecasting, and modeling, so they can answer a question for a business partner who wants to understand churn, for example,” says Keith Collins, CIO for SAS, a $3.2 billion maker of analytics platforms. “The responses are mostly blank stares. Shame on IT, and shame on CIOs, if they don't help their companies analyse data without creating a separate organisation that becomes another quagmire of who owns what.”

Want to know more about how other CIOs exercise leadership in their organisations? At CeBIT 2018, some of the most inspiring CIOs in the region will share their knowledge, tips for success and future insights. Don’t miss out! Register your interest today.

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