Iain White talks about the role of Chief Information Officer (CIO)

A CIO is a member of a company’s executive team who oversees the Information Technology (IT) department within the organization. One of their goals is to continue to maintain and improve the organization’s internal technology processes as a way of maximizing company productivity and making complex tasks more achievable through automation. They must also ensure that the technological functionality supports the overall strategic vision of the CEO.

Traditionally, the role of a CIO was expected to be filled by someone who holds at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering or some computer-related subject. Some organizations may require someone with a master’s degree in business administration or technology.

What does a CIO do?

A CIO is responsible for ensuring that the IT department functions effectively within the larger context of an organization, especially as it relates to costs and brand strategy. Some of the more mundane responsibilities include:

  • Approving the purchase of information technology equipment: CIOs are responsible for monitoring the IT department’s budget and deciding whether and how to procure the necessary equipment.
  • Delegating tasks to increase productivity: As a part of their job responsibilities, a CIO is responsible for taking a large project and dividing it into segments for separate departments to work on.
  • Managing the IT department and employees: CIOs are expected to manage all employees who work within the IT department. They answer employee questions, monitor overall department progress and ensure that every employee is exhibiting a productive work ethic.
  • Overseeing new network and system implementations: They’re responsible for planning and overseeing each step in the implementation process with the help of the IT director and tech department managers. Common projects include deploying new CMS systems and ensuring security compliance.

Higher-level organizational tasks include:

  • Developing business relationships with IT vendors: A CIO maintains a healthy relationship with vendors and suppliers who produce or manufacture IT devices for corporate use. This can be useful in learning about new technologies before their competitors.
  • Staying abreast of industry trends and new IT technologies: CIOs keep up with changes in information technology. They often read reports and studies on new technologies that could be of use to the company’s internal processes or communication channels, ensuring the organization remains competitive.
  • Strategizing and creating solutions specific to the company’s needs: CIOs might be asked to create tailor-made technology solutions that cater directly to the company and employee productivity. This might include creating a special CMS system or coming up with remote working solutions.
  • Working closely with other company executives to determine best practices: They’re responsible for collaborating with their executive counterparts to discuss issues, improvements or information to be disseminated to employees.

Depending on the size of the organization, the CIO may wear more of these hats or delegate most of the mundane work. 

What skills are needed for this role?

In order to maintain a productive work environment, a CIO needs a diverse skill set that helps them navigate through continually changing landscapes. Here are a few of the more traditional skills that can be helpful:

  • Leadership: Because they are responsible for managing the IT department and its employees, CIOs need a deeper understanding of executive leadership and initiative, which goes far beyond being a manager.
  • Communication: Great oral and verbal communication skills are a must. Giving presentations and disseminating information to all levels of the organization regarding policies and projects requires the ability to engage. CIOs also need to be active and effective listeners with the ability to handle different personalities and scenarios. 
  • Organization: Managing and deploying multiple projects across several teams and departments requires tight organization skills, which complements seamless communication. 
  • Technical depth: As head of the IT department, CIOs need expert knowledge in technological areas, such as understanding networks and architecture. In some cases, the position may require more technical knowledge, such as object-oriented programing (OOP), advanced coding in multiple languages in order to partake in advanced IT projects. 
  • Budgeting practices: As mentioned, one of the CIO’s job duties includes overseeing the department budget and making the proper investments. For this reason, those in this role should be skilled in finance and accounting in addition to having a clear understanding of how to spend a budget for maximum benefits.
  • Project management and execution: Their leadership role includes overseeing department projects and motivating employees to make meaningful contributions. CIOs should be able to manage a team of professionals with diverse work habits and areas of expertise by putting them into roles where they will be the most effective. While it isn’t required, project management or other methodology credentials would be a plus.
  • Risk management: They must be able to identify potential areas that could be susceptible to cybersecurity breaches and practice preventive methods to make sure their company’s data remain secure.
  • Relationship building: Business partnerships with other executives on the org chart mean a CIO must be dedicated to creating a beneficial balance between enterprise services and showing a dedication to business function. CIOs need to focus on this type of relationship building. 
  • Team development: A CIO needs to build a solid team and improve on delivery. Being able to focus the team on business outcomes, not just delivery deadlines, is necessary.
  • Thoughtful vendor management: This is more than just about reducing operating costs through contract negotiation and service level agreements (SLAs). A CIO needs to understand when the traditional vendor roadmap needs to be set aside in favor of niche solutions from new vendors. 

The changing role of CIO

The roles of CIOs are shifting to handle more than just project delivery. Their relationship with the customer will change and may take a marketing slant. As a result, CIOs need to have a more entrepreneurial streak, which tends to be more focused on disruption and innovation, and will need to: 

  • Align and leverage emerging technology: Blockchain and IoT are just a couple of the emerging technologies slated to change the way organizations do business. Apart from keeping up with technology, CIOs need to figure out how their actions tie into business performance. 
  • Step back from strict IT management: Strategy, as it pertains to customer behavior, new product lines and sales, is the focus. This kind of business acumen that demonstrates an understanding of how digital technology improvement impacts the company’s economy is now a part of what many recruiters are looking for in a CIO.
  • Lead the culture shift to embrace data: CIOs need to be able to spearhead the organization’s transformation, which goes beyond implementing new technologies. This means being in charge of the company’s ability to shift its culture and behavior toward being data-driven, pro-learning and digital-first. 

CIO roles are no longer bound by the need to have a traditional IT or engineering background. In many cases, candidates are coming from different disciplines because companies understand that being adaptive and agile requires a more organizational mindset. 

What is the difference between a CIO and a CTO within an organization?

A CIO and a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) are two executive positions that operate at the same level within an organization’s hierarchy. The difference between the two lies in their daily responsibilities and area of focus. 

A CIO acts as the manager who oversees all operations within an IT department to maximize internal productivity, whereas a CTO is responsible for overseeing engineers, product developers and designers who work within a company to create and improve external technologies for customers.

Another way to view the difference between these two roles is that CIOs focus on internal processes, while CTOs focus on external processes.

What’s the difference between a CIO and an IT Director?

CIO’s are all about developing strategies to handle the technology needs of the entire company and developing policies and procedures. IT Directors report directly to CIOs and are mostly responsible for supervising the daily operations of the computer systems and identifying where networks could be improved. They deal with the installation and maintenance of the organization’s hardware and software. 

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