It’s perhaps surprising just how few technical skills are actually needed to be a CIO. My children can’t believe I am even employable in IT, let alone running anything IT-related, given my inability to fix relatively simple PC problems.
The point is that the role of a CIO is much more about better use of information, improving service and competitiveness, building delivery partnerships and business innovation.
You do, of course, have to have a firm grasp of technology capabilities and technology trends - but not for their own sake. After all, most organisations use similar technologies and actually spend similar amounts of money on them.
Key skills for CIOs
Those who are better at IT are those who focus on how that technology is actually used. This approach requires managing risk, targeting investment, focusing on outcomes and showing tenacity in realising benefits. You need to pinpoint the IT decisions that will have a long-term impact on total cost of ownership of technology - decisions such as IT sourcing, partnerships and key systems acquisitions.
I agree with the view that there are no IT projects, only IT-enabled business projects. Even the most technical must have a business rationale. All proposals should be presented and measured in terms of business outcomes. This perspective helps avoid the techno-hype trap - such as, “We all need iPads” or “Security matters at any cost”.
Competitive advantage does not, in general, come from IT infrastructure, but from how it is used. After all, it’s not technology that creates business advantage - it’s what you do with it that counts.
Ultimately, it’s always more about people and process - how to take advantage of technology to support the workforce of the future. So, develop a keen business acumen and try to make sure you have some solid business analysts in IT who can bridge the divide.
Developing a technical strategy
Over time you get an instinct for knowing what will change in technology and how fast, and what is driven by hype. In developing a technical strategy, use those instincts and surround yourself with the best technical people, but always know enough not to be fobbed off with technical gobbledygook.
Doing all this is actually easier than it sounds, because there is nothing much actually new. Cloud computing, iPads, and social networking were not here five years ago, but the issues they create in terms of IT deployment, security, integration and extracting business value are exactly the same as the challenges I was grappling with at the height of the mainframe era 20 years ago. But it’s not technology that creates business advantage, it’s what you do with it that counts.
It’s important, therefore, not to pursue a reputation as a technology whizz or simply as the interface between business managers and IT supplier and delivery teams. Get the IT delivery bit right, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that is enough - it’s an aspect of IT that can readily be bought in.
Understand the business challenges facing your organisation and then apply some lateral thinking to help solve them with IT.