4 intangible traits of a transformational CIO

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CIO at the table

With the concept of digital transformation sweeping the business world, the CIO has never been more prominent. To support the accelerated pace of change, a new role is emerging: that of the transformational CIO, an IT leader who integrates technology, business, and people skills to drive business transformation.

Beyond the core functional skills and business expertise required of a modern CIO, a handful of intangible traits are also critical to success. Here are four worth calling out.

Intellectual curiosity

The pace of technology change is breathtaking. Some CIOs may see this as overwhelming; transformational CIOs see it as exhilarating. They are already deeply involved in the potential benefits of blockchain, machine learning, 5G and wearable devices for their businesses. They’re always on the lookout for new solutions with breakthrough potential while maintaining a healthy skepticism born of experience.

Partnership-building skills

Ecosystems are a must for resiliency and innovation. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, CIOs who had existing partnerships with cloud and software-as-a-service providers were better prepared to move to virtual work environments. Those who skillfully cultivate partners in the future will be better equipped to expand their digital capabilities with the latest innovations.

“Learning, trying, failing fast, and building partnerships allows them to find the solutions that are strategic,” says Brian Moore, Americas Technology Transformation and Trusted Intelligence Field of Play Leader at Ernst & Young LLP (EY). “It starts a cycle that shows tangible results and gives the CIO credibility as an enabler of success.”

Moore suggests that CIOs look beyond legalities toward establishing trusted relationships. “Don’t hide behind the contract,” he says. “Drive toward mutual success with your business partners.”

Talent-building skills

Korn Ferry forecasts a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people by 2030, costing $162 billion in annual lost revenues in the U.S. alone. Transformational CIOs aren’t waiting for educational institutions to solve the problem; they are aggressively promoting skills development for their existing workforce with an eye toward the future.

Part of the equation is getting rid of infrastructure that is no longer strategic. “IT projects are typically 90% about keeping the lights on and 10% about innovation,” Moore says. “But if your skills are focused on legacy technology, that’s not where the threats are coming from.”

Transformational CIOs farm out commodity tasks and focus their people on areas where they can add unique value — and continue to evolve professionally. “If you’re challenging people to grow and problem-solve, it keeps them from getting bored and increases the culture of innovation,” Moore says.

Grace under pressure

CIOs are arguably under greater pressure than any other C-level executive right now. They need to overhaul legacy systems, digitize analog processes, redefine customer relationships, and empower their organizations with data. That makes them a lightning rod for criticism, which only magnifies the importance of keeping cool. “Having a calm demeanor helps you better balance the number of projects on your plate,” Moore says. It also contributes to clear-headed thinking about what priorities matter.

These four traits will help a CIO align more closely with business objectives, which has never been more important. Transformational CIOs partner with their business-side colleagues to identify ways technology can contribute to their success. Alignment creates credibility and trust that enable transformational CIOs to land and expand into other parts of the business where technology can have the greatest impact.

For more information about how Ernst & Young LLP can help you unlock long-term value for your stakeholders and thought-provoking content for technology professionals visit ey.com/CIO.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.