- Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 16:00
By Jeff Richards
The Path to Becoming a CIO
If you want to be a CFO there's a fairly prescriptive list of things that you need to do to rise through the corporate ranks. For example, most CFOs start their careers working for one of the major accounting firms. They have CPAs. They understand general accounting, taxation, transactions, how to deal with board members and banks, and so forth.
But if you want to be a CIO there is nothing that remotely approaches a prescriptive list of what you need to do to get there. There's no special curriculum and no widely-accepted "must have" certification.
Most CIOs get their jobs after spending most of their careers focusing on either applications or the infrastructure and hardware connectivity aspect of IT. But whether they're from apps or ops, they're usually technically-oriented people who are accustomed to working and speaking with other technically-oriented people. Which, unfortunately, can put them at a significant disadvantage when they find themselves sitting with the executive team.
CIOs Need to Learn to "Speak Business"
It is often said that IT folks have a language of their own. People outside of IT joke about the need to translate "tech" or "geek speak" into English. Once they become executives, CIOs need to learn to speak a new language, too: The language of business.
In my experience I've seen that the people who do better as CIOs are the "apps" specialists, because working on applications has given them a good understanding of how businesses work. But even with this understanding, they still tend to speak in terms of availability, response times, maintenance windows and other IT-centric issues. What they don't realize is that none of the other business executives on the team cares about any of these things.
What the CEO, CFO, COO and other C-level executives care about is the scorecard for the business. They think in terms of revenue, customer engagements, cost reduction and products. Which is why to be successful CIOs need to learn to speak this language, too, and put their initiatives into the business context. Instead of talking about availability and response times CIOs need to speak in terms of business process efficiencies (how their initiatives will make things better, faster or cheaper), access to new markets, increasing customer engagement and so forth.
Making the Mind Shift
So if you're a CIO, how do you go about doing this? To a large degree, learning to "speak business" is all about changing your mindset. Understand that the other business executives don't care – and shouldn't have to care – about the technical details of what your department does. They're counting on you to worry about that stuff. Here are some suggestions for making the shift:
- Stop talking "tech" – You'll never establish your worth in the company by explaining technical stuff. Focus on bottom-line business results instead.
- Start talking to your internal customers – Engage them. Establish (or re-establish) relationships. Recognize that your job is to meet their needs. Ask them what they value, and then show them how you can deliver these things.
- Read the right trade journals – In addition to the publications meant for CIOs, you should also read the trade journals that your CEO and the other executives read.
Keep in mind that as the CIO you're competing against marketing, sales, R & D and other departments for budget dollars. You're running a cost center. Most of the other executives are running revenue centers. In this environment, if you can't show how your department is positively impacting the firm's bottom line, your tenure as CIO is not likely to last for long.
About Jeff Richards
As an inspirational leader with the ability to develop the "big picture" strategy then drive it down to executable tactics for implementation, Jeff leads our Professional Services team. Clients benefit from Jeff's 25+ years of experience developing and implementing transformative business strategies.
Jeff's experience spans both industry (including Materials, Operations and IT Management) and consulting. He developed a unique global perspective during his tenure in significant P&L management-level positions in both Asia and Europe.
About CIO Professional Services
CIO Professional Services LLC is a top-rated IT (Information Technology) consulting firm, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in strategic IT consulting and business / IT alignment. Companies come to us seeking assistance with their information technology strategy as well as to source interim CIO / CTO employees or fractional CIO / CTOs.