The new CIO: Jack and master of all trades

The CIO’s role used to be about technology. Not anymore, finds Hudson report

In a world of global economic uncertainty and skills shortages, CIOs must balance a more strategic perspective that encompasses both technological and leadership skills with commercial nous.

That’s the findings from talent management firm, Hudson ICT, which has outlined the changing role of today’s CIOs in its report, The Reconstructed CIO: Building and Leading the New IT Function.

Read more about IT leaders in CIO Australia’s Management category.

The report is based on Hudson’s ICT Industry Leaders Series roundtable event, involving 11 CIOs from some of Australia and New Zealand’s leading institutions and companies. Hudson has identified eight leadership competencies that define the core capabilities of successful CIOs and their teams:

  1. Visioning;
  2. Inspiring;
  3. Innovating;
  4. Decision making;
  5. Collaborating;
  6. Building talent;
  7. Building the business;
  8. Customer focus.

Attendees included CIOs from Open Universities Australia, OneSteel, Sunsuper, Seek, Gen-I, Life Without Barriers, Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance, Housing New Zealand Corporation, Network Ten, Sandvik Mining and Construction Australia and TransGrid.

“One of the things that really struck me was just how broad the role has become and the breadth of competencies that CIOs need to develop in their teams,” Hudson ICT national practice director, Martin Retschko, said. "That’s having a huge impact on the way that they attract, retain and develop their stuff. That diversity means it is becoming an increasingly difficult role.

“It’s a fairly challenging time for CIOs because of the pace of chance they’re dealing with means the team they have today are going to need to be adaptable to support where the business is going longer term — and even medium term.”

IT systems have become integral to business operations, increasing the risk exposure of many CIO roles. At the same time, CIOs are one of the few executives who have visibility across all aspects of the organisation. General manager of information systems for OneSteel, Michael Dines, summed it up succinctly: “The IT folk are the other people that actually understand the whole business, from taking an order to shipping a product to getting the money out of a customer. No-one else has that visibility of the process.”

Key report findings:

  • The scope of today’s CIO role has broadened, above and beyond that of the traditional chief information officer.

  • Technical skills are no longer must-have criteria for the modern CIO and few CIOs expect an IT background will be considered essential over the next decade.

  • As the CIO role has changed, so too has the IT function they manage and the staff that support it. CIOs are looking for employees not only with the requisite technical skills but also with business sense, change management skills and a strong cultural fit.

    The search for strong talent continues to be a bugbear — some roles have not existed long enough for people to acquire the right skill set.

  • Post-GFC IT projects are under increasing scrutiny, in terms of necessity, complexity and return on investment.

    Although IT budgets have increased, there is significantly greater analysis of value and alignment with the organisation’s overall strategy.

  • CIOs need to look for broader skills when hiring to ensure they build the right teams. This includes development activities such as mentoring and creating the right culture to keep people motivated.

“I think you’re looking for much more than you would have been historically,” Retschko said. “Within the CIO role itself, we’re finding they really need sharp human resources and management skills to marketing and communication skills, to customer service, innovation and change management. It is really asking a lot from one individual.”

These days, a CIO role is more attuned to the competencies of a CEO or COO, he said.

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“From a people perspective, they need the ability to engage with HR to ensure they’re not only developing their people now but also understanding the gaps and thinking about where technology is taking the business and the sorts of competencies they’ll need tomorrow.

CIOs at the roundtable also discussed the need to assess the feasibility of people for roles as they move into new technology opportunities.

“It is not just looking at the know-how — the ability to do the job,” Retschko said. “Motivation is key, as well as the capability and potential of the individual. We are finding the really high performing technology teams have some good metrics around what drives performance and it’s not the technical skills — it’s that people are aligned to the right jobs.”

The best CIOs are really "career coaches", he said.

“They’re ensuring their teams receive good mentoring from the right people but in the direction that suit their career interests.”

Follow Georgina Swan on Twitter: @swandives

Follow CIO Australia on Twitter: @CIO_Australia

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