The chief information officer (CIO) of a company is no longer just the company’s IT leader, traditionally seen as the “chief techie in the back office”.
Today’s CIOs are well-rounded business strategists focused on the transformation of their companies, and they are innovative thinkers at the forefront of global trends. They may even be potential successors to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), says Guy Lundy, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa.
“While being technologically savvy is still the most important prerequisite for the job of CIO, the role has progressed markedly from the earlier narrow, internal focus on implementing and running a company’s ERP systems,” says Lundy. “These days, the CIO is a strategic adviser on how technology- and the latest technological trends – can be used for competitive advantage and to enhance business efficiency.”
Lundy says forward-thinking CEOs are looking for the following skills in their company CIOs:
• Leadership. This includes not only traditional leadership traits, but also self-awareness, emotional intelligence and authenticity – in short, the ability to self-manage and lead themselves while leading others.
• People management. CIOs have to manage large and diverse teams of people, from accountants and engineers working on routine tasks to business analysts and techies used to operating on a project basis.
• Internal and external communication. CIOs must be able to sell projects and ideas internally, which includes communication at Board level. They are also increasingly participating in external conferences, and may be required to represent the CEO in talking to the market about technological strategy and vision.
• Strategic thinking. They need to be able to see the bigger business picture, not just their company’s IT strategy. CIOs really need to be their company’s technological and business visionary – they need to learn to think like the CEO.
• Industry experience. It is essential for CIOs to have broader industry experience beyond the field of technology, as well as in other areas of the business, such as sales and marketing, or the supply chain. In short, CIOs need to be well-rounded individuals versed in all areas of the business and the wider industry.
• International exposure. It certainly helps if a CIO has had some international experience, especially in countries which are more technologically advanced than South Africa.
“An international trend which is sure to take hold in South Africa soon is the appointment of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to complement the role of the CIO,” says Lundy. “We are now squarely in the digital era and many companies are finding that two heads are better than one – the field of technology has become too diverse and too fast-changing for only one incumbent to hold the reins.”
He says the CDO’s role is to focus specifically on digital advances and the demands these place on a company’s business model. “Any company trying to increase shareholder value will need to recruit a digital leader with the power and influence to help align the company’s business and operating model to the rapid changes digital technology is ushering in.”
Lundy adds that, whereas in the past the company CIO tended to report to its chief financial officer (CFO), it is advisable that the CIO reports directly to the CEO.
“As businesses become more reliant on the application of technology as a business differentiator, the CIO in fact needs to become the CEO’s right-hand person, and should be appointed with possible CEO succession in mind,” he says. “The CIO could also be co-opted at Board level, as has been recommended by King III. This will ensure that the right skills and characteristics are brought into the CIO role – and that the CIO is not seen just as an IT leader, but as a key strategic asset.”