Tomorrow’s CIOs Will Need Business Skills First

Leading The Pack

Indeed, whereas questions of customer service may have belonged to a product manager or a marketing department ten-years ago, today’s (and tomorrow’s) CIOs are not only responsible for fixing many customer service issues, but for taking the initiative to spot the issues and lead the charge to fix them.

“Every business decision drives an IT event,” says Ronan McGrath, president and CIO of shared services at Rogers Communications in Toronto. “Product cycles are shortening dramatically” leaving CIOs to solve complex problems more quickly in an increasingly risk-averse environment riddled with conflicting priorities.

Because technology is so pervasive today, CIOs of tomorrow need to know all about conflict-resolution in politically sensitive situations. Few senior managers have to look after problems in departments other than their own. But IT projects or campaigns — such as the launch of an enterprise resource-planning application — impact all departments.

This makes the CIO’s challenge not only technical, but political as well. “CIOs … need to learn how to lead,” says Leganza.

Meeting The Challenge

In addition to bulking up on the raw mechanics of communications skills, CIOs can improve communications by having a thorough knowledge of their audience — whether it’s a board of directors or the IT staff.

Bulking up on business knowledge can also help. CIOs without an MBA may consider getting one. But often, those with sagacity can get what they need at the office. “You can get an MBA, or you can spend more time with business people,” says one CIO.

Networking with other CIOs can also help. “You can get that knowledge by experience and sharing your knowledge with your peers,” says Atlas’ Simoudis.

For leadership skills, Forrester’s Leganza suggests leadership seminars, books written by proven leaders — and practice. “Like anything else,” Leganza says, “Leadership takes hard work.”

In the end, though, understanding the company’s needs can be a CIO’s best guide to what new skills or education are required.

“CIOs need to step outside the confines of the IT organization,” concludes Simoudis. “They need to be more plugged into the business aspects of their company. That is the key.”

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