Tomorrow’s CIOs Will Need Business Skills First

CIOs of the future will think of themselves as chief business-information officers if recent trends are any indication of what to expect in 2005 and beyond.

Understanding a company’s core business — and how technology serves that core business — will be key for CIOs in the coming years, along with strong communications skills, leadership skills and the ability to network with and learn from colleagues.

Business Savvy

“I believe CIOs today are being consulted a lot more by their CEOs than ever before,” says Evangelos Simoudis, a partner at the Apax Partners venture capital firm, which runs a bi-annual CIO Advisory Board roundtable. “There are more CIOs in the board room than ever before.”

Even in a situation that seems to be all about technology — such as outsourcing a programming project — a CIO not only needs the technical savvy to pick the most capable programming partner, but also the business acumen to manage the outsourcing relationship properly.

“CIOs have to have a clear idea of how to integrate service firms into the company,” says Gene Leganza, a vice president at Forrester Research in New York.

Sue Powers, the CIO at Atlanta-based travel-reservation system operator Worldspan, echoes their thoughts, explaining that, as a strategic tool, technology is only useful when it serves a company’s business needs.

“None of this (technology) matters if it doesn’t drive productivity,” Powers says. “We don’t care about technology for technology’s sake.”

Beyond internal communications, CIOs of the future will need to master external communications, too. The Internet has fostered an “instant everything” attitude, leaving many CIOs struggling to keep up with growing customer demands. Today, customer service issues have to be instantly recognized and just as quickly addressed in order to keep customers from defecting to competitors.

“And we don’t want that to happen,” Powers says, adding that Worldspan tries to detect and correct any performance problems or potential points of customer dissatisfaction before the problems become evident to Worldspan’s customers — or its customers’ customers.

“The Internet has made us much more focused on 24/7.”