Five Old-School Skills for the New Age CIO

As the IT personnel structure becomes more fluid, duties and titles change. But the block-and-tackle skills for the top IT job haven’t changed much at all. “There has to be somebody who is the master of the technological infrastructure,” says William Ulrich, president of Tactical Strategy Group. And that somebody is the CIO. So, what skills make a successful CIO in this new world? Many of the same skills they’ve always needed, such as the following:

1. Smart money management. “One has to recognize that you are in business to make money primarily,” says Carl Turza, CIO at Sigma-Aldrich Corp. in St. Louis. “Technology is the only thing that allows you to achieve three things simultaneously: increase revenue, increase margins and increase service level. If the CIO is busy applying technology to do those three things, the business will employ a competitive advantage.”

2. Ability to connect with clients. “It is really important to have good listening skills, good communication skills and good relationship building with clients internally and externally,” says University of Pennsylvania CIO Robin Beck.

3. Leadership and a vision for the future. “A successful CIO must possess and practice strong leadership,” says Frank Laura, CIO at Quicken Loans. “Furthermore, they must also spread their leadership beliefs throughout the team.” Says Ulrich, “The CIO or IT people may be the only ones who can see across the business stovepipes that have been established. The CIO could become the visionary who can allow [the senior business people] to move forward in a more coordinated fashion.”

4. Inside-out knowledge of the business. A successful CIO is “someone who has developed a strong relationship with all the business constituents at a senior level and can help align the IT organization with the business strategies,” says John Stiffler, director of IT governance and strategy at Grant Thornton. “He can put things in the context of the business. He doesn’t wait for the business to tell him what to do; he tells the business how IT can help them.”

5. Experience in the technology trenches. “Technical skill is a given,” says Beck. “You can’t talk about creating environments and change unless you have built and maintained technical excellence. That is the basic skill this all depends on.”

See the main story, How IT Is Revitalizing Staff Skills.

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