Why CIOs Need to Become ‘What’ People Instead of ‘How People’

There exists a divide in the boardroom: those who sit at the table discussing what the company needs and those who sit along the wall deciding how to deliver this. CIOs have always been tasked with the “how” portion, but is there hope they can move up? In an article for, Martha Heller explores why CIOs should be involved more in the “what.”


Every person with a coveted “what” seat has a unique perspective on what the company needs, and the CIO is no different. Along with technology, CIOs are familiar with the intricate workings of the business end-to-end, along with: data, processes, and how the organization operates. All of this knowledge on capabilities is what gives the CIO their competitive edge.

For the most part, CIOs focus on what the business needs and how to deliver this effectively and efficiently; they seldom take any personal risks or take ownership of projects. However, if CIOs take more ownership they will not only have a greater voice in what needs done, but they will see an increased respect from their colleagues too. In order to take on more risks, there needs to be an increase in the skill set. They will need to strengthen their ability to understand strategy in all aspects, possess a deep financial understanding of the cash flows, as well as understand how to improve the business’s most pertinent capabilities. When it comes down to improving capabilities, there are only three elements that can truly be improved: connections, automation, and decisions.

So how can a CIO start to make their way to first class? Begin by ensuring that the basics are well cared for. This includes the infrastructure, cost structure, project management, and delivery. Once there is a handle on these areas, move towards small ownership opportunities that are outside of IT. Over time, respect will grow because you will be seen as possessing the ability to reach broader to contribute value.

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