Just what it means to be a CIO (Chief Information Officer) today is a far cry from what the job was a decade – or even just 5 years ago. What we call information has morphed and expanded, thanks to common access to digital formats and a much wider range of uses for data.

To live up to greatly amplified expectations, CIOs are expected to bring a wider range of skills to the job. Their role has become central to business success, and more than ever it’s about fostering relationships and blazing a trail to digital utilization that works for everyone.

A recent survey of 200 CIOs in North America shows how their perceptions of the job are being shaped by technology and its importance in staying competitive, whatever the field.

CIO is Key to a Successful Digital Transition

In order to facilitate the company’s transition to the use of digital tools, survey respondents listed these attributes most often:

  • CIO owns the effort (89%)
  • Clearly defined and communicated digital strategy (84%)
  • Understanding the business benefits of digital (82%)

So it’s critical for today’s CIO to recognize that the success or failure of technology adoption rests with them more than ever. Part of the task is developing a strategy and letting all of the stakeholders know the how and why of the effort right off the bat. Buy-in is critical for any sort of organizational change, and this should be a specialty of the CIO.

I’ve written on buy-in before … in fact, they’re two of my favorite words.  

Credibility and Relationships

To secure that buy-in, CIOs are expected to demonstrate solid baseline knowledge of IT, and also to have established working relationships with leaders across organizational units. Integrated technology by definition affects every aspect of the business. It’s no longer just about selecting hardware that allows everyone to do their job. It’s become a strategic business move. The CIO - along with the whole C-Suite - working together to execute the firm’s strategic vision. There’s no more piecemealing.

In order to create and foster these productive relationships, CIOs should have strong collaborative and communication skills. This helps them to influence the path taken by the organization as a whole, because stakeholders have confidence in the CIO’s judgment and regard for the company as a whole.

While stakeholder buy-in is tremendously important, 90% of the survey respondents indicated that their relationship with the CEO is most important. This certainly makes sense, when you consider the trust that CEO’s must place in their CIO.

Roles of the CIO

When we look at the roles most often identified as essential for CIOs, it becomes clear that the job is all about bringing people together and building consensus. It’s about thoroughly understanding how to express goals, get people on board, and train people in change management. CIOs are expected to identify and bridge IT skills gaps, influence other leaders in the firm, and promote inclusion and innovation across the company. In fact, this last role was chosen by 90% of the survey respondents.

Practical examples of these roles include consulting stakeholders to identify real needs in order to find real solutions. Creating an inclusive process makes success much more likely as new tools are introduced to the workflow. This requires strong communication skills and so-called “soft skills” –not something that the IT field has traditionally been known for.

These people skills certainly do not take the place of meticulous planning, training, and ongoing evaluation of information systems. They are added skills that serve today’s CIO well.