What is a Chief Information Officer (CIO)?

by SimeyC

The CIO has become an essential leadership position in modern business. With wide ranging tasks the CIO is key to the successful running of the modern IT department.

The CIO (Chief Information Officer) is typically the head of information technology (IT) within a corporation or organization. The CIO is a leadership position that reports directly to the Chief Financial Officer or, in many cases, the Chief Executive Officer.

The job of the CIO is to ensure that the information technology and computer systems support the corporation and assist in reaching business and enterprise goals. IT systems have become far more important to modern businesses and the CIO has become a very strategic role that helps leaders formulate a business plan and strategy incorporating modern technologies.

The CIO is a high level position in which analysis of business processes is a key function allowing for the company to develop cohesive plans to use new technology to improve functionality of the business as a whole.

Often a modern CIO will have business acumen, organizational skills, and project management skills in addition to IT skills. The combination of these elements allows for a deeper understanding of the corporate world as well as the IT world given leadership far more insight into the way technology can change the way things are done without compromising quality.

IT Organization Chart
IT Organization Chart

CIO Career Requirements

CIO Experience Requirements

CIO should have a minimum of ten to fifteen years of experience in information technology with a diverse range of jobs. In addition at least 5 years of experience managing and directing IT and strategies is requires.

CIO Education Requirements

As the CIO position requires a deep understanding of technology and business the job requires a technical business degree and usually a master’s degree majoring in business or IT. A CIO is expected to continue to update their education throughout their career.

Suggested Universities for IT qualifications:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
  • Stanford University, Stanford, CA
  • California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Suggested Universities for business qualifications:

  • University of Notre Dame, Notra Dame, IN
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • Boston College, Boston, MA
  • Villanova University, Villanova PA


Suggested reading for CIOs and CIO candidates:

The Transformational CIO: Leadership and Innovation Strategies for IT Executives in a Rapidly Cha...

This excellent book aimed at leadership helps executives to maximize the return on investment on current and future technology projects. A great resource for the modern CIO it includes commentary from many of the World’s top CIOs.

$22.96  $19.95

View on Amazon

Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value

This book explains how to use IT to generate value for leadership and can be used throughout an organization. It’s ideal for the CIO who wants to spend less time on IT and create more return on investment and more value to the company.

Harvard Business Press
$20.99  $8.28

View on Amazon

How important is the CIO in the modern business world?

What are the Skills of the CIO?

The CIO is a strategic and important position that requires experience and qualifications in a varied range of skills. Some of the most important requirements are:

  • Knowledge of business: it has become increasingly important that the CIO has an expert knowledge of business practices and how they apply to the corporation. This knowledge allows the CIO to create technology strategies that can link the back office and front office seamlessly allowing for a high degree of integration. Knowing how every process interacts with each other and understanding the crossover between support and the field is imperative as it will assist in creating a 360 degrees IT system that provide leadership with accurate information on all aspects of business.
  • Risk management: this often neglected skill is one of the most important skill requirements for the CIO. With new technology there is always an element of risk. Untested technology can have security risks, can often change quickly or can become obsolete – understanding the risk and being able to adapt a policy or process as risk occurs is very important. CIOs understand the need to invest in technology; their job is to ensure that the risk is mitigated so that if there is a failure any damaged is minimized.
  • Change management: in today’s business environment there are constant refinements to organizations and structures. The CIO has a very important role in managing organizational change and restructuring so that the technology keeps pace with the change. In addition, with the business world embracing out-sourcing, the CIO has to manage expectations and ensure that skill levels are maintained or increased when parts of the support group (including IT) or other functions are out-sourced. Maximizing the use of technology to deliver solutions that will allow the business to move through any change without impacting the bottom line is an important aspect of change management.
  • Leadership: the CIO has to foster an enticing vision of the future of IT within the corporation and develop the IT staff to embrace the strategy. Creating a dynamic, fully integrated team that shares the goals is important for a successful IT department.
  • Running IT like a business & Business Acumen: the days of throwing technology together without worrying about how much it costs or how effective it might be are gone. The CIO must turn the IT department into a service provider and use standard business practices when serving their clients. Project management and budgetary skills are used to ensure that not only are technology investments made on solid business grounds but they are also cost effective and efficient over their lifetime. This combined with keen business acumen will allow the CIO to protect the financial interests and ultimately the bottom line of the company.
  • Relationships: in any business the back office is always under-appreciated. Quite often someone on the front lines with customers will not understand why he or she hasn’t got the greatest technology. Building relationships between all aspects of business including sales and marketing will help build bridges and ensure that everyone understands the underlying strategies that are driving the technology usage within a firm.
  • Accountability: out of all leadership positions, the CIO probably has to concentrate on accountability the most. The credibility of an IT department often relies on delivering a quality service on time. The CIO therefore must be accountable and ensure that any project is delivered effectively and efficiently.
  • Continued learning: most people understand that the computer you buy today is obsolete tomorrow. Computer hardware and software are constantly being changed and upgraded and it’s important that the CIO continues to understand these changes and adapt to new emerging technologies (such as the cloud). Incorporating the newest technologies in a timely manner can give a company a competitive edge that may mean the difference between success and failure.
  • IT Knowledge: while many of today’s CIOs have business backgrounds it’s important that they have a keen understanding and mastery of IT technology. They cannot simply rely on their staff.

What does a CIO do?

CIO functions.
CIO functions.

The CIO has a wide ranging role within the corporation. Applying all of the skills above, the CIO has responsibility for the following:

  • Strategy and Architecturethis includes creating an IT plan, aligning IT to business, seeking revenue opportunities and implement strategic plans. This is one of the most important job responsibilities of the CIO; it has a direct impact on the enterprise and if delivered correctly will help a company become modernized and ultimately gain a competitive edge.
  • Manage Servicesthis incorporates all aspects of manage current and future services including creating help desks, new releases, configuring and collecting service metrics. The CIO must understand the importance of technology within the company and realize that without solid support and maintenance key IT systems can become less efficient or even fail. These failures will have a major impact on business.
  • Governance and Legal Strategythe CIO must apply corporate IT policy, use risk management to asses future projects, ensure the corporation retains records as require buy law and protect intellectual property. The CIO has to understand the implications of all technology related laws – not protecting internal intellectual property can help competitors gain an advantage. More damaging, a CIO must ensure that the company has permission to use any outside intellectual property – failure to do this can lead to a loss in business, litigation and a loss of reputation.
  • Projects and Deliveries – this includes development, strategy, management and delivering projects. The key to any business is to understand technology and leverage the use so there is maximum efficiency and a rerun on investment. Delivering projects that add value to the company in a timely manner is one of key responsibilities of an IT department and ultimately the CIO.
  • Sourcing – the CIO controls staffing, outsourcing, vendor management and procurement of hardware and software. With the ever changing work force, the need for a stable and knowledgeable staff is high. As the learning curve within technology is fairly steep it is important to hire the best candidates and be able to keep them. With the increase in out-sourcing in the IT sector this becomes increasingly difficult for a CIO as it is more difficult to control an external workforce. Balancing skills within the IT department and finding an outsourcing company to complement and enhance this is the biggest challenge a CIO will face.
  • Security this includes protecting data and information, protecting personal identifiable information and ensuring the security of the network, hardware and software. The information and data a company holds is an asset; it is essential that this is protected by several layers of security to ensure that competitors and criminals do not have access to any internal data. In addition with the increase in identity theft the CIO is charged with protecting the Personal Identifiable Information such as social security numbers of the company’s employees.
  • Financial Management – includes budget planning and management, metrics and calculating return of investment on IT. Financial Management of the IT department is imperative for any organization. The CIO must ensure that there is comprehensive planning and management of all aspects of the IT department. This includes staffing costs, software investment and other costs such as networking, security etc. The CIO must use metrics to ensure that the costs are within plan and there is adequate return on investment on a project.
Updated: 05/14/2014, SimeyC
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