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Three key skills for the modern CIO

Three key skills for the modern CIO
January 10, 2012in Technology2012-01-102013-03-18technologyen
Modern CIOs focus on developing their influencing and negotiating skills. Commercial acuity, leadership and innovation are the watchwords of the day. While such terms may have been used for a while, the definition of what they mean has become increasingly sophisticated. As a result, CIOs'...
three key skills for the modern CIO
Modern CIOs focus on developing their influencing and negotiating skills. Commercial acuity, leadership and innovation are the watchwords of the day. While such terms may have been used for a while, the definition of what they mean has become increasingly sophisticated. As a result, CIOs' approach needs to reflect the new reality, particularly in a world where the global economic outlook remains so uncertain. 
But even as employers continue to exercise caution while they wait to see the impact of austerity measures, rising levels of global unemployment and falling levels of consumer confidence, many are starting to try and position themselves for hoped-for growth in 2012. 
This means that even though IT budgets are increasing slightly, CIOs are still being expected to do more with the the same resources. They are also being asked to demonstrate their value to the business in order to avoid cutting the average two-year tenure figure down further. 
1. commercial acuity 
While in the past, commercial acuity meant wringing the best deal out of a supplier, today the term has been expanded to cover how to get the best out of a partnership. To do this successfully, involves building an effective relationship with the third party, motivating them to work harder for you using carrots rather than sticks and making them feel part of the team by sharing in both successes and failures. 
But according to Cathy Holley, a partner at CIO recruitment company Boyden, commercial acuity also means developing an in-depth knowledge of how both the business, and the sector in which it operates, works so that "you can focus your own and your team's resources on pulling the right levers for business success". 
Taking a more externally-focused approach, i.e. understanding what external end-customers want, also facilitates communication with the chief executive as this is where their key focus lies. 
But Holley warns: "All CIOs without exception think they're very commercially astute, but when they do a stint in the business, they say 'wow, I had no idea'. So if you get the opportunity, do it, even if it looks like a sideways move." 
2. leadership 
Nowadays, CIOs need to be more than functional heads who make themselves available for formal and informal chats with staff. Instead they have to be leaders who can communicate the company's strategic vision effectively, motivate personnel to work hard and deliver excellent results even if things are changing or going wrong all around them. 
Sophisticated influencing skills are likewise vital to win over stakeholders in HR or finance for example, if it is in the best interests of the organization. But to do this successfully requires recognizing that their motivations and agendas may be very different and that a change of style could be necessary to connect with them. 
To walk the tightrope of potential opportunity versus and risk also necessitates good negotiation skills. For example, while senior managers may be wildly enthusiastic about the cost-cutting potential of cloud computing after having read about it in a magazine, it will be incumbent on the CIO to weigh up if such a move is viable. Concerns might center on security, lack of control or a dearth of adequate in-house supplier management skills, but a rational case will need to be made to help colleagues come to a decision based on what is best for the business. 
Thomas Fuller, Deloitte's manager in IT efficiency, explains: "The CIO is a relationship-based role and it's only going to get more so. So you have to put the facts on the table and let the management team help you make those decisions by ensuring that everyone understands the level of risk they're willing to take." 
Such an approach also means that "you're less likely to be treated as the whipping boy if things go wrong", he adds sagely. 
3. innovation 
In days gone by, CIOs could pride themselves in having introduced change into the IT department by revamping it along service lines and implementing sound governance arrangements. However, today such activity is no longer enough. 
Innovation means helping to change the way the organization does business, whether that entails cutting costs or exploiting new revenue streams. One approach is to harness the ideas of the workforce, which includes IT, in order to identify opportunities that can then be enabled using technology. 
David Chan, director of the center for information leadership at City University London, who runs a 'Masters in Information Leadership' course, cites the example of Tesco's iPhone application, which enables shoppers to photograph the bar code of a product, log onto their account and order it. 
"It's about innovation in how you apply technology. So it's internal entrepreneurship, but it's bigger than that as you're moving into areas of product and customer satisfaction and you need to transition from an inwards-focused culture to an outwardly-focused one," he says. 
Supporting such business change, particularly when resources are scarce, may involve using increasing numbers of third party skills or service providers to deliver the necessary programs. Here again increased levels of commercial acuity come into play as such an approach is all about managing outcomes rather than holding all of the 'levers' as has traditionally been the case. 
A version of this article first appeared in Enterprise Briefing from Orange Business Services. Our professional services team can help you with any strategic IT projects you would like to undertake particularly around innovation. To find out more go to:


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