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Should the CIO lead the boardroom?

There’s been a lot of talk about the role of Chief Information Officer (CIO) becoming the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Given the importance of digital technology in our lives, I would have to agree with this view to a large extent. In fact, what we’re looking at is the technical evolution of the CEO to lead the digitised businesses of tomorrow.

Computer Weekly’s CIO Trends Q1 2016 report repot looks at the important question as to whether today’s CEOs have the right skills to succeed in tomorrow’s businesses and the finding, straight from the horse’s mouth, is quite significant – only 9% of CIOs surveyed said the felt they had the skills needed to lead their organisation.

Looking closer, it’s clear that most of this refers to ‘soft skills’ – and having confidence in their leadership abilities to effectively influence an organisation. One quote I found particularly resonant was from Mike Brown, VP of information technology at ExxonMobil. He said: “If you’re leading an organisation of 7,000 to 8,000 people, you need to be approachable. If you’re not an effective communicator and speaker, and you’re not able to connect with people on multiple levels, you can’t be a leader.”

CIOs should put people first to be effective leaders

Businesses today have to be able to change direction and realign in an instant, traditional ways of doing business just aren’t sustainable anymore in a digitised world. And a traditional CEO’s business methods are often out-moded, too slow and too expensive for this new fast paced real time environment. Essentially CIOs are starting to look much better positioned to lead than those from a more CEO-friendly background of finance for example (and I can say this coming from a finance background myself!).

As we start to accept and address the fact that the UK is facing a digital skills crisis, some of the sobering statistics in Computer Weekly’s report also revealed that nearly 12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills and it suggests that this digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP.

Clearly, with this very real digital skills gap, future CEOs have to take on strategic responsibilities and know instinctively what IT skills their organisation needs. I believe that this comes from understanding people – how employees need or want to work and how customers want to engage with your organisation.

It’s people that deliver service and ensure agility, not technology alone. And this is why I think CIOs are in a great position to provide the right style of leadership for tomorrow’s business environment: influencing business strategy hand-in-hand with IT strategy. Even if they don’t yet realise it themselves.

It’s why we’re seeing challenger banks and the more innovative retailers turning to CIOs to fill the top slot. For example, Anne Boden, CEO of Starling Bank, who spent seven years as a director and CIO at Aon, or Kim Hammonds, who assumed the role of COO at Deutsche Bank at the end of last year.

The CIO needs a bigger hat stand

The CW report said that the new CIO is a person wearing many hats and that “They are the point of confluence between business needs and technical capabilities… Those who want to remain a valid and valuable member of a user organisation must change their mindset and take on these various hats to ensure the business maintains market competitiveness into the future.”

A truly successful CIO won’t just roll out a digital strategy to their people. S/he’ll make them feel like they’re a part of it and that’s what defines a successful leader, they’ll harness their tech experience and their understanding of how it impacts their most valuable asset, their people. At O2, we’re committed to helping CIOs gain more from technology and empower their teams and their people do their best work. Take a look at some of the projects and products we’ve been working on here.

Ready to scale up your business? Call an O2 business specialist on 0800 028 0202 or call free from your O2 mobile on 8002.


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