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March 31, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 1:16pm

5 ways to be a cutting-edge CIO

How to become a great chief information officer.

By Joe Curtis

Over the last decade, IT has gone from being tucked away in the business’s basement to being a driver for new innovation and opportunities.

While it’s arguably the most important part of a company these days, the downside is that everybody in the boardroom wants to take control of it and the credit for its successes. At the same time, the CEO and the CMO will be quick to lay the blame at the door of the CIO whenever anything doesn’t go to plan.

But worry not; CBR is here to tell you how to keep ahead of your boardroom rivals at the same time as being at the forefront of the business.

Develop your ‘soft skills’

No matter how much tech ability and knowledge you have, you’re not one of the team working on code and fiddling with hardware. A cutting-edge CIO must be able to manage his or her employees in such a way as to get the most out of them, while also managing the business’s expectations as to what can be achieved.

A Gartner study titled The CIO Edge: 7 leadership skills you need to drive results found the same thing.

Authors Graham Waller, George Hallenbeck and Karen Rubenstrunk wrote: "When we observed success, it was not that the smartest people or the best technologists were promoted ?rst. Instead, the IT executives who had the best relationships and could earn "followership" — not only with their employees, but more importantly with their business partners within and outside the organization — rose through the ranks the fastest.

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"Time after time, it was clear that soft skills yielded hard results."

Embrace big data, just don’t let yourself be overwhelmed

We’re at a point now where big data analytics is becoming really useful to firms on a real time basis. But before you go down the rabbit hole, you might not need big data scientists to make sense of the information for you: plenty of tech firms provide varying levels of stastistical analysis tools to give you insight into structured and unstructured data without needing a team of specialists.

Also, you need to allow yourself some tolerance for error: big data isn’t always going to get it right, and more importantly, not all the data is going to be wholly reliable. So let it help you identify key trends, but don’t expect perfect predictions, either.

big data

Make friends with the CMO – but be wary

Many businesses are experiencing a power struggle for control over the IT spend these days, as more and more service providers report they are speaking to the business, particularly the CMO, rather than IT, when it comes to selling.

To tackle this, a cutting-edge CIO must be co-operative and communicative with colleagues, rather than shutting them off, or directly competing with them. With the agile work method now being commonplace, CIOs have the opportunity to be part of a more collaborative process, and speaking up when your knowledge surpasses the board’s means your opinions will carry more weight.

Cut down your Keep the Lights On costs

A recent study by IT services firm HCL Technologies found that CIOs are spending on average two-thirds of their budgets on what is known as ‘keeping the lights on’ – the daily maintenance of systems and applications.

This leaves far less available for driving innovation, and is a surefire way to make yourself less important and influential in the boardroom. By using solutions directed at application support and maintenance (ASM), the CIO can free up more cash for exploring new technology.

There’s always room to learn more

One major sin for all people in high positions is to think they know it all. Nobody knows it all, but that is especially true in technology, where things are constantly changing.

That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on existing trends and to speak to your counterparts elsewhere at conferences, which also give you a head start on the IT revolutions of tomorrow.

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