How to become a CIO

How to become a CIO

Expert tips on how to get that CIO job

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If you want to become a CIO, now is a good time to make that move. The career ladder generally goes: IT worker, manager, director, executive director, CIO. Our panel of experts discuss how to create a plan to get you on that next rung of the ladder.

It’s a good time to be a CIO. The credit crunch and the agony it brought have helped transform IT from cost centre to centre of innovation, change and opportunity in many organisations. If you think you’ve heard it all before then check the recent career progress of Philip Clarke who made the move from CIO to CEO at retail giant, Tesco.

More good news is that the majority of CIOs are arriving from a heavy-duty tech background; the trend, fashionable in previous decades, of appointing a general manager to this role is looking distinctly dated. This job is T-shaped, with broad knowledge encompassing business, finance and technology across the top bar, supported by deep wells of technical competence.

The real difference between an average and stellar performance in this role however, says Adam Thilthorpe, director of professionalism at the BCS, is the ability to ‘blend’. In other words, a successful CIO matches technical ability with business aptitude.

It’s having the insight and ability to make IT the instrument of business change that elevates the modern CIO. The opportunities are there for the picking - in the music market the phenomenon of music downloads and iTunes that changed the shape of the industry, for example.

As Thilthorpe puts it: “If you’re behind the curve in technology, it’s a threat. If you’re ahead, it’s an opportunity”. All of which means that CIOs who can blend are in demand and fast becoming the rock stars of boardroom remuneration.

What type of person should you be?

The CIO is the member of the senior management team who forms the bridge between technology and the business. This calls for excellent interpersonal skills, business acumen and the ability to talk the language of the boardroom – often financial.

Having the necessary credibility stems from being a good communicator who’s robust enough to get a message across without using brute force. The technology piece is a given, not least because a CIO will typically manage more than a dozen suppliers, all of whom will try and muddy the waters about service though techno babble at some point.

A word on the difference between the CIO, the modern incarnation of the top tech job, and the IT director. A rule of thumb is that IT directors spend more time with their technical team than customers and CIOs tend to spend more time with the business.

Panellist’s view: You need to gain credibility quickly so that you are taken seriously and not just as another propeller head.

What are the first and second jobs; what’s the career path?

The first and second job can be any typical first-rung job such as programmer or business analyst but by the third, you need to think customer. A business-facing role with direct contact with business contacts will pay dividends in cultivating interpersonal and business skills.


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