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CEOs seek CIOs with a 'bias for action'

Clint Boulton | March 18, 2016
CEOs want several things from today’s transformational CIOs, including superior communication, collaboration and risk mitigation skills, say executive recruiters. But a longer-term question looms: What becomes of the CIO?

Today's IT leaders. Strong cultural fit? Check. The ability to communicate with senior management and the board? Check. CEOs are also looking for CIOs who can anticipate and hedge against emerging cybersecurity and competitive threats, according to executive recruiters from Korn/Ferry International.

"The ability to look around the corner... that part of the job has become more important than ever," said Korn/Ferry Senior Client Partner Bob Concannon, during an open discussion at the Forbes CIO Summit in Half Moon Bay, Calif. last week. Concannon called this capability "bias for action," the critical knack for knowing when to seize on new ideas and execute on them rapidly. But he acknowledged that this requires CIOs to be constantly on their toes because the evolution of technology is such that there is "no end point."

Social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) technologies are underpinning today’s transformations. Cloud software is freeing up IT staffs from the chores of managing IT infrastructure to identify and manage cloud services, and then manage the vast quantities of data generated by SMAC tools. CIOs have evolved from data center and back-office custodians to change management agents and cloud brokers. Future technologies could include augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, and other emerging tools, according to Deloitte research

CIOs must gut-think like CEOs

Such constant change requires CIOs to think more like CEOs, something many CIOs may struggle to do because they rely on data before making critical decisions, said Mark Polanksy, Korn/Ferry senior client partner, during the discussion. "A CEO will make decision faster because they have the experience to trust gut," Polanksy says. "It’s hard [for the CIO] because you have to go against the grain a little bit and that takes courage -- the ability to get outside your comfort zone and do things a little bit differently than you did them yesterday. And slowly but surely you make that transition."

CIOs who can channel their inner CEO by reassessing their business, adjusting their strategy and executing earns the coveted "transformational CIO" moniker, and typically earn 25 percent to 35 percent more money than more purely tech-focused CIOs.

Even so, Polanksy acknowledged that every CIO can't or doesn't want to be viewed as transformational. The CIO role is split into two camps: those that are business savvy and those that are not, or those that are part of the business and those that are not.

Forbes Insight research released at the event bears this point out. Forty-four percent of 305 IT and business executives surveyed are “servicers" providing digital capabilities requested from other business units or “plumbers” running the traditional tasks of IT. Only 13 percent of said that their CIOs are "transformers" serving as full partners to the business in digital transformations. Another 44 percent are "advocates," piloting or exploring digital projects.


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