A role that provides experience of dealing with users and their problems is essential. So if you are from an IT background, any role that has lots of user interaction will be good. If you are not from an IT background then an operational background would be good. Anyone with an eye to the top job should make fairly rapid progress to managing small teams and have a good handle on infrastructure, service delivery and project management.
The role that is a launch pad for a bid for the CIO is crucial. Head of business solutions and head of software development are particularly good roles, because of their two prongs: head of a software factory but also interface to business demand for software solutions.
Panellist’s view: My first break that put me on course to CIO, was a publishing role where I was responsible for the online delivery of services and products to clients.
What professional qualifications should you acquire, and organisations should you join?
You should have a core IT qualification of some sort and ideally be educated to post graduate level or have an MBA. Further learning helps intellectual development and helps ‘round’ you as a person - a definite bonus in such a challenging role.
The Chartered IT Professional status, or equivalent, shows a real commitment to the profession and also helps develop - and demonstrate to colleagues – a breadth of knowledge and capability. It may be worth investigating other courses such as CIMA’s finance for non-financial professionals, to build credibility with the board, too.
Joining professional bodies, such as the BCS’ Elite, also provides access to membership networks. In a role so dependent on having a broad knowledge, such a network is invaluable. As well as being aid for doing the day-to-day job, it can also be a route to the next promotion.
Panellist’s view: Networking enables you to learn lessons without going through the heartache.
What additional skills are useful?
You need to continually develop in this role if you’re not going to stagnate and networking is an important tool. Get yourself a mentor who has performed in this role, not necessarily in the same industry, who can help you identify and remedy potential weaknesses.
Exposure to managing third-party suppliers is a major area of competence given the continued trend to outsource in the deficit-cutting era. Similarly, working out the impact of risk is becoming a must-have area of intelligence.
Another good way of accessing the broader skills that will improve your judgement and performance is to take on a non–executive role in a professional organisation. Otherwise, a thick skin and the ability to keep calm in a crisis will smooth the way.
Panellist’s view: I see CIOs who are out twice a week meeting suppliers and investigating new technical opportunities.