Like anyone in IT, CIOs know they must keep their technical skills current. But how do you identify the most critical technologies that every CIO should know? I spoke with some experts about this issue, and I also consulted one of the best tech resources around—the TechRepublic community—to find out what technologies and other tech leader skills CIOs should be learning about and improving to stay ahead of the curve.

ERP is a keystone
TechRepublic member James R. Linn suggested investing time in understanding ERP and the overall tech landscape when integrating financial, human resources, supply chain management, procurement, and manufacturing systems.

“In many companies, these systems still exist in isolation, and integrating them can realize both economic savings and increased ability to provide information and services to the company,” he said.

Myles Stern, an associate professor in the IS and manufacturing department at Wayne State University in Detroit, agreed.

“ERP is certainly not new, yet many CIOs have failed to fully understand how the different components work together and separately,” he explained. “Supply chain integration doesn’t function by itself but works hand in hand with other applications. There’s the issue of CRM, despite all the hype, which has yet to be fully integrated,” he added.

Why insight on security and wireless is vital
Stern also pointed out that there are two critical areas in which CIOs must be well versed to protect their organizations—network security and wireless technologies.

“It’s hard to keep up with the hackers,” said Stern. “As soon as a new security application appears, there is a hacker in the wings ready to crack it. Firewalls have never been more important. The [events of] 9/11 pointed up the critical need for network security as well as strategies for data storage and data recovery.”

And, as more and more users are grabbing wireless devices for both home and work, today’s tech leaders are increasingly being asked to integrate, and support, mobile devices like PDAs and Palms. The advancements in wireless products and services—and the resulting integration issues—are spurring colleges and tech schools to offer specific classes and even full curriculums in wireless technologies. A recent META Group study predicts that wireless transactions will comprise nearly one-fifth of business-to-business transactions and one-fourth of business-to-consumer traffic by 2003. While those numbers may not be astronomical at this point, pundits believe they’ll spike within the next few years.

“[Wireless efforts are] already a part of corporate budgets for the later part of this year and certainly for next year,” said Stern.

Steve Halligan, chief technician and security expert at Geek Squad, a rapid-response tech support company in Minneapolis, said brand-new technologies, such as .NET, should also be on a CIO’s study list.

“It’s an evolving technology, and the bugs have yet to be worked out, which is all the more reason why it should be followed closely,” explained Halligan.

While great strides have yet to be made in real implementation, that scenario will change very soon.

“.NET isn’t perfect, but even Microsoft’s severest critics must admit that it offers clear advantages, which is all the more reason that all senior IT executives, especially CIOs and CTOs, should be familiar with it and how it can possibly solve security issues,” he added.

Don’t forget crucial business skills
Technology, however, shouldn’t be the only focus for CIOs looking to hone career skills. Bill Halal, professor of management science at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Phil Barnett, adjunct professor of general management strategy at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA, stressed enhancing business acumen and knowledge management strategies.

Halal believes tech leaders should consider taking classes and seminars on knowledge management and information architecture. Both emphasize that continual learning in these areas is a must, as the topics are constantly changing and evolving—and maybe more importantly—because both are strategic points in building a successful IT organization.

“Knowledge management is at least six years old,” Halal explained. “It is the technology behind gathering, interpreting, and segmenting knowledge. It has never been more important in a growing enterprise.”

Knowledge management is critical to the CIO’s role, he added, because it enhances an organization’s intellectual assets. Yet, according to Halal’s research, 30 percent of U.S. companies do not have a knowledge management function.

Barnett contends that CIOs not only need to stay current on today’s technologies and business strategies, but they also need to know what’s coming to succeed as a tech leader and put their enterprise in the best position to respond.