From CIO to CEO

Mark Rogers, Logicalis Group's CEO, highlights the skills required for CIOs to move in to the top job in their organisations.

Unless you work for a high tech start up, the chances are your CEO rose to power through finance, or sales and marketing. The people doing the deals, whether it’s bringing in sales or securing finance, have always been best positioned to work their way in to the top seat at the boardroom table.

As we have previously pointed out, it is only since the turn of the millennium that CIOs and CTOs have been ushered in to the boardroom at all. Now, as we move into a digital world, CIOs have more of the skills that have traditionally been integral to the CEO’s repertoire.

The times they are a changin’

Some years ago the CIO – or Head of IT as he or she might have been then – ran the IT department with little line of business interaction. Crucially though, in recent years, the CIO has had to become an expert in change management. That, along with a clear vision of the future, is what great leaders need in their toolbox.

Meanwhile, the near ubiquity of cloud services means that CIOs are now routinely negotiating and managing a range of service contracts.

All this is backed up by recruitment firm Hays’ DNA of a CIO report, released last year. It found that skills such as people management (52%), stakeholder engagement (43%), commercial acumen (26%), communication (also 26%) and innovation (21%) are all considered more important than technical knowledge (16%) by today’s IT leaders.


It’s important, however, to acknowledge the skills the CIO does not necessarily have. For example, the CIO rarely has to be the external face of an organisation or shape its culture.

Of most importance, however, is building rapport with and earning the respect of other company leaders. This can be achieved by taking opportunities to showcase business and technology acumen – for instance by taking charge of a business function or driving forward the organisations’ digital transformation projects.

Alan Mumby of executive search firm Ogden Bernstein stated in a Computing UK article: “The more the world relies on systems that are deployed by CIOs, particularly replacing business processes with digital solutions, and interacting directly with the customer, the more influential CIOs will be and therefore the more likely they are to earn the respect of their peers.”

Reach for the stars…

There is a simple truth at play here – that the future of many industries seems predicated on harnessing emerging technologies and disrupting all – or a significant part – of the existing business.

It is perhaps inevitable then, that the number of CIOs moving into business leadership positions will grow in step with the increasing importance of IT and digitalisation.

They must, however, first prove themselves in their IT roles – and that means using their technical and business expertise to help their organisations retain customers and maintain a competitive edge, whether that’s through leading digital transformation or owning a business function.

In the end though, times have changed, and in this digital world there’s no reason why CIOs shouldn’t rise to the challenge and aim for CEO positions in their organisations.

For advice on how you can lead change in your organisation, download our complimentary how-to guide to CIO leadership: ‘Aligning IT and Business: A practical guide for leading change in a service defined world’.

Tags IT Leadership, CIO, IT Trends, Business Strategy