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7 Must-Have Skills For Wall Street CIOs

Wall Street tech chiefs must hone a range of skills for leadership success.

While there's plenty of attention focused on hiring and retaining top IT talent, leaders must hone their skills, too. As the business looks for more innovation from the IT organization, the demands on CIOs are evolving. This situation is having a dramatic impact on the types of skills an IT leader requires.

To find out more, we gathered an informal panel of four CIOs who are seasoned Wall Street IT professionals, plus two veteran industry analysts, to get a sense of what skills CIOs need to successfully lead their organizations.

At the outset, CIOs and industry analysts agree the role of the CIO is less focused on IT projects than ever. "Today, 75% of a CIO's time is spent on business leadership issues," says Diane Morello, Gartner's managing VP for the executive leadership and innovation group. "CIOs need to know who to influence, what kinds of conversations influence them and how to speak their language."

This squares with the experiences of Eaton Vance CIO John Shea. Shea says he spends most of his time with a combination of external parties, including customers and business units. "Business units have a much greater awareness of technology than ever before," he says. "Our relationships are more of a partnership versus in the past when IT initiatives were a black box."

Given this fundamental reality, here are the seven skills our panel of experts identified:

1. Build Relationships

With CIOs spending so much time outside the IT unit, it's not surprising this skill is the top priority. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study showed that CIOs who are "strong collaborators" with their peers help drive success. "Organizations where CIOs are strong collaborators are four times more likely to be in the top quartile for both revenue and innovation," says Chris Curran, a principal and chief technologist for PwC's U.S. Advisory practice.

While most tech chiefs are well-versed in the traditional skills for relationship building, what's new for many Wall Street CIOs is the necessity to beef up their cultural awareness. "Growing your physical presence into Asia is dramatically different than growing into London, for example," observes Kevin Kometer, CIO of CME Group.

"In our case, we're also working on a joint effort in Brazil," he says. "Understanding the Brazilian approach to any given topic, their work styles and the effects of language differences are all important for success."

2. Abstract And Universalize

Successfully solving a technology problem is always an accomplishment, but breaking down problems into their constituent parts and then applying the lessons broadly is the mark of an all-star.

"If you have 10 problems and you solve them one-off, you'll do the same thing 10 times and have 10 different solutions," notes Chris Perretta, CIO at State Street. "What's more insightful is looking at a series of problems and deconstructing them until you can say, for example, 'These are really just four flavors of two basic problems.'"

"Having abstraction and universalization capabilities enables you to prioritize far more effectively and deliver results," he adds.

3. Gather Intelligence

Getting outside the four walls of your firm to explore the activities of peers, emerging vendors and academic research "helps you understand what's possible, and what will be possible, with information technology," says PwC's Curran. Gartner's Morello agrees: "CIOs who don't know how technology is being used outside their firms, particularly by competitors, will get blindsided."

According to Fidelity Investment's most senior IT executive, enterprise CTO Steve Neff, a critical aspect for intelligence gathering is having the ability to determine which companies to benchmark against. "For example, we look at Google, Amazon and eBay for ideas and talent just as much as we're studying IBM, HP, our partners and competitors," he says.

Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio

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SanjibTech
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SanjibTech,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2013 | 3:28:15 PM
re: 7 Must-Have Skills For Wall Street CIOs
Exactly Greg. Innovation is very infrequent in financial industry these days due to several factors. I believe the right strategy is to fail fast and move forward while implementing new technologies and enabling a change. When we design shorter cycles of deployment and have frequent risk analysis, failure can be anticipated fast. I believe failing faster is a big win as well. So, no shame in failing but failing smarter is the key. If CIOs are scared to fail, they should not innovate. But if they want to innovate, they should learn to fail fast and move forward. I am one of them at tradeMONSTER :)
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2013 | 1:00:22 PM
re: 7 Must-Have Skills For Wall Street CIOs
You are correct, @SanjibTech, that the margin for error is getting smaller. However, there has to be some appetite for failure in a technology organization. If not, everyone will be afraid to try new things, or look at new technologies that could help drive innovation. Allowing for failure (in a smart way) has to be part of the IT culture.
Anne R Gabriel
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Anne R Gabriel,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/13/2013 | 5:50:02 PM
re: 7 Must-Have Skills For Wall Street CIOs
Yes, @gogreen-traders, you've nailed it and I believe all of the participants I spoke with for this article would heartily agree with you. In fact, an article that touches on this subject by WS&T's Melanie Rodier, called "IT's Got Talent," will post to this site in the coming days. And another article, by WS&T's Peggy Bresnick Kendler, "IT Pros Want More Than a Pay Raise," shows some interesting gaps between the notion that being a change agent is desirable and whether current IT staffers perceive that their opinions are valued (or not) - after all, to be a change agent requires having an opinion! You may want to watch for both articles.
Anne R Gabriel
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Anne R Gabriel,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/13/2013 | 5:25:42 PM
re: 7 Must-Have Skills For Wall Street CIOs
Important insights @SanjibTech, particularly "Blended Executive" which
is essentially what everyone I spoke with addressed in one way or
another - just not using the term. Perhaps I was remiss in not working it into the article, so I thank you for posting it here! All of the CIOs that participated in this article clearly dedicate time to achieving the right blend of business, leadership and IT skills, every day - as it's a fluid mixture that definitely requires frequent rebalancing.
gogreen-traders
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gogreen-traders,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2013 | 9:01:14 PM
re: 7 Must-Have Skills For Wall Street CIOs
Every part of the FS business is subject to change today. Revenue models, customer demographics, regulation, compliance. Being a Change Agent has to be part of everyone's job now.
SanjibTech
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SanjibTech,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2013 | 5:19:45 PM
re: 7 Must-Have Skills For Wall Street CIOs
This is a great article pointing out the core skills. Personally, I could not agree more with "Being a Change agent" and "Place the right bets". CIOs have to constantly balance priorities and come up with solutions that works within budget. There is very less margin of error. The way CIOs can handle risks and can mitigate them to meet the organizational needs is the key to success.With the IT world moving more towards a Blended Executive mode, knowing your business is very important. The right mixture of business, IT and leadership skills is difficult to find and makes the recipe for a winning CIO. Great job!
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