Much has been made of CIOs’ need for business and leadership skills. To be truly transformational leaders, today’s CIOs must be adept at helming high-performing teams, guided by a keen understanding of how to co-create value with business colleagues.
But technical skills, often relegated to the second tier of an IT leader’s necessary skill set, can give CIOs a level of digital dexterity that will help advance not only their organization’s digital initiatives but also their own careers.
“CIOs must own their role evolution and shape and execute new actions throughout digitalization — evangelist, orchestration and foundations engineering,’’ wrote Gartner in the 2021 report “Executive Essentials: Evolve Your Role as CIO.”
Yet, only 47% of CTOs and 45% of CIOs are digitally-savvy, according to the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at the MIT Sloan School of Management. These IT leaders stunt both their organizations’ outlooks and their own prospects for advancement, as a tech know-how deficit on company boards means CIOs with digital skills are now more likely to earn a seat in the boardroom.
So, just as employees are being upskilled in technologies to advance their careers, CIOs should, too.
“There’s an innate nature of the CIO to always be thirsty for knowledge and be learning,’’ says Craig Richardville, chief digital and information officer at Intermountain Healthcare. “For many of us, including myself, we don’t consider ourselves experts but students who can learn and turn around and teach others.”
IT leaders and industry experts weigh in on what differentiates today’s digital-savvy CIOs from the pack, as well as the tactics they employ to keep current on technical skills — paving the way for future success.
Today’s workers need to understand how to glean insights from a data platform in a self-serve way, says Evan Huston, chief digital officer at Saatva, a luxury mattress and bedding company. “Our approach to data engineering is to enable end users to build their own dashboards off of clean data. Two specific skills I’ve had to learn to then help others are creating dashboards in our BI tool and becoming more sophisticated with Google Analytics.”
Kim Huffman, CIO of TripActions, a business travel management, corporate card, and expense management company, admits that earlier in her career she was “closer to the technology than I am now.” But Huffman says she tries to stay current, particularly in emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning.
Skills like cloud and data analytics “are examples [of] where CIOs/IT leaders must excel and demonstrate their ability to execute these strategies in alignment with business needs,’’ says Len Peters, faculty director of the CIO Senior Executive Program at New York University, who most recently took a data science certification course in AI at MIT.
It behooves CIOs to not assume cybersecurity is the sole purview of the CISO. COVID has provoked an increase in cyber threats and introduced new challenges in how people work by nature of being fully remote, says Saatva’s Huston.
“Years ago, having a password with numbers in it was considered secure but the past few years, in particular, have brought about the need for employees to understand not only two-factor authentication but how to use password managers and authenticator apps in order to protect systems and data,” Huston says.
CIOs must keep their security knowledge up with the times in this rapidly evolving landscape to implement and advocate for updated best practices across the organization, he says.
TripActions’ Huffman believes it is important for CIOs to better understand how endpoints interact and to learn about extended detection and response (XDR) tools. She is particularly interested in this area “because we’re not going to be able to match the rapid acceleration [of threats] with humans.