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Greg MacSweeney
Greg MacSweeney
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The Future of the CIO

Today's chief information officers are no longer hardcore technologists. And they aren't pure business leaders either. They need to have excellent business and technology acumen to succeed.

The history of the CIO is an interesting one. When the chief information officer position was created many decades ago, it was most often filled with the best technologist in the organization. Today, a company is less likely to have a hard-core techie in the CIO seat. And that may be a good thing.

However, having a lifelong business leader making IT decisions might not be the best choice either. Many organizations have former business leaders as their CIOs, and quite a few are former CFOs. In fact, during tough times, many companies consolidated the CIO and CFO roles, leaving the management of the IT group to a financial executive. While this often leads to an IT group that runs very well and costs less, the IT organization simply “keeps the lights on” and does little to help the business grow. In other words, an IT group run by a CFO typically does not provide many new ideas about how to use the latest and greatest technologies.

Today’s CIO is as much a business leader as a technological guru. In a climate where business needs change almost as rapidly as the technology that supports the organization, a chief information officer has to stay a step ahead of both technology and business trends. In fact, successful CIOs do more than simply take orders. This year’s Wall Street & Technology Elite 8 honorees all play roles in shaping their firms’ business, as well as stewarding their respective IT organizations.

Often, distinguishing between the business and technology is difficult. Technology is such a big part of most business strategies that it is foolish to consider part of the company as “the business” and the other part as “technology.” Many CIOs feel that if technologists continue to talk about separate business and technology units, it demeans the IT group -- placing it at a level below the business.

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Another trait that is common among many of today’s CIOs is communication. Most of this year’s Elite 8 spoke about the importance of communication. Not only do leaders need to be able to work with staff to make sure the company’s goals are met, but they also need to be able to communicate with others in the company. CIOs need to be able to translate the capabilities of complex technology to users. Communication -- on top of all of the other attributes, including business knowledge and technological acumen -- can make or break the career of any leader, especially the CIO.

As Wall Street & Technology celebrates this year’s Elite 8, look for the themes of innovation, communication, and both business and technology expertise. These are the attributes that define today’s CIO role. And these are the characteristics that successful technology leaders will likely lean on in the coming years. 

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio
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Becca L
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Becca L,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 3:53:54 PM
Re: CIOI Fuses Business & Technology
A big piece of the communication puzzle is selling these technical ideas that will impact all the business arms. They require investment and the resources to implement, the business side is not going to hand that to IT teams without the right pitch. The CIOs I interviewed mentioned some of the hardest part of their role in implmementing large scale game-changing solutions is getting the business side to understand, and see the same vision.
Becca L
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Becca L,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 3:46:36 PM
Re: CIOI Fuses Business & Technology
Great point Bryan, as technology becomes an ever-greater part of marketing operations, a CMO with technicial background is becoming more important. I expect this trend is happening throughout all arms of organizations.
Byurcan
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Byurcan,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 9:09:00 AM
Re: CIOI Fuses Business & Technology
The role of the CIO is indeed changing froma  pure technology role. The CIO is also in some ways kind of a CMO as well, or at least adopting some marketing tenets.
IvySchmerken
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IvySchmerken,
User Rank: Author
9/29/2014 | 11:55:37 AM
CIOI Fuses Business & Technology
I agree that the today's CIO has to be a technology guru but also has to be a business leader. With the complexity of various technologies such as cloud, virtualization, big data and low-latency trading, for that matter, I don't see how anyone who doesn't have a strong background in computer science, engineering or quantitative fields, could advise a company on major technology decisions.  It is also interesting how communication was emphasized as a key skill by many of our Elite 8 honorees. CIOs need to communicate with their teams, with end users and with their CEOs and CIOs. Clear communication is a strong skill in any profession but in technology it's essential. If a CIO speaks with technical precision but no one on the business side understands, then it's pointless.
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