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Today's topic explores the roles and responsibilities of the chief information officer (CIO) and answers the question, "What does a CIO do?"

1. What is a CIO?

Chief information officer (CIO) is an executive job title commonly given to the person at an enterprise in charge of information technology (IT) strategy and the computer systems required to support the organization's unique objectives and goals.

Required reading:

> Learn about the history of the CIO role and how it has evolved since the mid-1980s.

2. What does a CIO do?

In the mid-1980s, CIOs were primarily focused on the more technical projects. Today, CIOs are viewed as key contributors to formulating organizational goals as the storage, transmittal and analysis of electronic information grows in importance across industries. As a result of their increased strategic responsibilities, CIOs in large organizations typically delegate the oversight of day-to-day IT operations to a technology deputy and rely on a team of specialists to manage specific areas of IT. The role of the CIO continues to rapidly evolve as organizations become more digital.

The chief information officer at one organization could have an entirely different set of responsibilities from the CIO down the street. According to SearchCIO, a very high-level definition describes CIO as "a job title commonly given to the person in an enterprise responsible for the information technology and computer systems that support enterprise goals." It is the CIO's job to innovate, collaborate, balance the IT budget and motivate IT staff.

Required reading:

> This guide from SearchCIO provides an overview of the current status of enterprise CIOs' roles and responsibilities.

3. Who does a CIO work with?

In many enterprise organizations, the CIO reports to the chief executive officer (CEO) and at some companies the CIO has a seat on the executive board. CIOs work closely with their IT staff and recent studies show there is a benefit in strengthening the CIO-CMO (chief marketing officer) relationship. According to IBM's Global C-suite Study, which was published in 2014, companies at which the CEO, CIO and CMO work more closely together than with other C-level executives tend to outperform competitors. The CIO also has a close relationship with the chief financial officer (CFO) -- in fact, that's the strongest relationship between CIOs and other C-level execs, according to IBM. After the CFO, the CIO has close relationships with the CEO, CMO, chief supply chain officer (CSCO) and the chief human resources officer (CHRO).

Required reading:

> Companies are discovering that the relationship between the CIO and CMO is becoming increasingly important to business success.

> IBM conducted a Global C-suite Study to identify what the most successful C-suites have in common.

4. What hard skills does an effective CIO need to have?

Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that may be required to do a certain job. In job a posting, for example, a hiring company might specify that applicants must be proficient with software applications, be able to do basic math calculations, know how to use content management systems, etc. CIO job postings often ask that applicants have hard skills such as:

  • Proficiency in establishing IT services framework and IT security policies
  • Ability to recruit and direct IT staff members
  • Project management and budget management skills
  • Aptitude for customer engagement analysis
  • Mastery at establishing strategic service provider partnerships

Required reading:

> Here are seven evolving technical skill sets that should be on every CIO's radar screen.

> Guess CIO Michael Relich sat down with SearchCIO's Linda Tucci at a MIT CIO Symposium event to talk about the IT job skills a CIO should look for in a prospective employee.

5. What soft skills does an effective CIO need to have?

Soft skills are personal attributes that relate to an individual's ability to interact with others. Soft skills such as empathy, optimism, integrity, teamwork and humor are especially important in IT leadership or executive roles. Effective CIOs possess soft skills like the aforementioned, which not only enhance their relationships with other executives and their IT staff, but also improve job performance and future career prospects.

Required reading:

> Author and consultant Roxi Bahar Hewertson explains why emotional intelligence is the differentiator between the best and the mediocre or less-than-mediocre leaders.

> Former CIO of Marriott Carl Wilson explains why an idea that makes sense on paper must also be a good a cultural fit if it is to succeed.

6. How much do CIOs earn?

According to TechTarget's 2014 IT Salary and Careers Survey, the average base salary in the United States and Canada for a senior-level IT executive that year was $143,942 with an average total compensation (salary combined with bonuses) of $177,229. (In the survey, senior-level IT executives included CIOs, CTOs, executive vice presidents and directors of IT/MIS/IS.) This represented a 4% increase in salary and an 8% increase in total compensation over the figures reported in the 2013 survey. This compares with an average base salary and total compensation reported in 2014 of $99,662 and $117,854, respectively, for IT managers and $76,994 and $82,376, respectively, for IT staff.

Required reading:

> IT executive compensation rose 8% in 2014, fueled by bonuses and increases emphasis on driving business results.

7. How is the role of the CIO changing?

As new technologies emerge and businesses increasingly enter into the digital era, IT strategies evolve and companies demand that senior IT leaders possess skills that go beyond traditional technology management. In SearchCIO's 2012 Role of the CIO survey, respondents suggested IT leaders must possess legal expertise, corporate financial skills, data management skills, vendor and partner management, project management, and expertise in compliance and security. These skills have worked their way into CIO job description postings across industries.

Required reading:

> As new technologies emerge, IT strategies evolve and businesses clamor for skills that go beyond traditional technology management, the CIO job description is undergoing a metamorphosis.

> A panel of CIOs at MIT Sloan's CIO Symposium offers its insights on how to leverage cloud and mobile computing to drive efficiency and agility.

8. What technologies and trends should CIOs pay attention to?

SearchCIO expert Niel Nickolaisen takes several IT trends very seriously. The is the emergence of a services-centric application architecture, replacing the large, monolithic enterprise application. Another trend that can't be ignored is the ever-quickening pace of technology and business change. Nickolaisen suggests the currency in IT is speed and that CIOs should focus on innovation for competitive advantage.

Required reading:

> SearchCIO's Niel Nickolaisen takes on five big technology trends for 2015.

> Whirlpool CIO Mike Heim is using cutting-edge tech to reinvent the lowly laundromat, but this CIO had to reinvent how his IT team worked.

9. Glossary

To answer the question, "What does a CIO do?" it's important to understand the current state of the IT industry. The role of the CIO is heavily influenced by how IT strategy, computer systems and an enterprise's ever-changing objectives and goals align. CIOs making decisions in the digital age should familiarize themselves with the following ten terms:

Data sovereignty: the concept that information which has been converted and stored in binary digital form is subject to the laws of the country in which it is located.

Compliance burden: refers to the specific processes, budgets and manpower the organization initiates in order to meet requirements as well as the potential legal punishment and monetary fines for violating a compliance regulation.

Data confabulation: the selective and possibly misleading use of data to support a decision that has already been made.

Sensor analytics: the statistical analysis of data that is created by wired or wireless sensors in order to detect anomalies.

Containerization: an approach to software development and mobile application management (MAM) that limits the environments in which certain code can execute.

Risk appetite: the level of risk an organization is prepared to accept.

Appreciative inquiry: a change management approach that focuses on identifying what is working well, analyzing why it is working well and then doing more of it.

Black swan event: an incident that occurs randomly and unexpectedly and has wide-spread ramifications.

Campbell's law: the observation that once a metric has been identified as a primary indicator for success, its ability to accurately measure success tends to be compromised.

Lean Six Sigma: combines Toyota's lean manufacturing philosophy with the qualitative and quantitative techniques for driving process improvement that Motorola's Six Sigma management strategy provides.

10. Quiz

Test your knowledge of IT job salaries and find out whether you are on the CIO career path to success in these short quizzes:

  • Quiz: Fine-tune your CIO career path
  • IT earnings: An IT career salary quiz
This was last updated in October 2019

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