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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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