Open Menu Close Menu

IT Leadership

5 Ways to Be a Future-Ready CIO

As next-generation chief information officers navigate the complexities of digital transformation, here are five tips for success.

From Silicon Valley to college campuses, the chief information officer (CIO) role continues to evolve in scope, complexity, and influence. In today's hyper-connected world, the role of the CIO spans multiple spectrums within an organization, from business strategist to technician (in some cases). CIOs must learn to wear multiple hats as they learn to evolve — and the CIO role will only stop evolving when technology ceases to evolve. What's more, the next generation of CIOs will need to be properly equipped to face the unique challenges of providing technological foresight and direction to a generation of digital natives, even as digital immigrants begin to exit the workforce.

The term digital natives was originally coined by Mark Prensky in 2001 to describe two opposing views on technology. His article suggested that there are discernible disparities in technology adoption between those born before technology became prevalent and those who have spent their entire lives immersed in the digital world. Generation X are typically classified as digital immigrants, while individuals from Generation Z are definitely considered to be digital natives. In many ways, over the past three decades, CIOs have been focused on a similar transition: migrating organizations from the analog to the digital era, hence the wide adoption of many "digital transformation" strategies and frameworks. Whereas CIOs were once focused on introducing transformative technologies to a generation that had little to no digital savvy, going forward, the current generation of digital natives will be demanding a whole new approach to digital transformation. Below are some tips for next-gen CIOs to navigate the demands of the future.

1) Embrace uncertainty. The CIO role has and will always be a dynamic role, where change is a constant. I recall my early days in IT leadership, where I would think to myself "this never stops." The spectrum of responsibilities and the number of things that could go south on a given day were always at the back of my mind. Thankfully, our team always pulled through whenever faced with difficulties. The lesson here is that next-gen CIOs must come into the job prepared to face the daily uncertainties, challenges, and wins that come with the job. One would argue that the CIO job is a high-risk/high-reward type job and those who desire the role must embrace the uncertainty that comes with leading a digital enterprise.

2) Communicate at the right level. According to Mike Mathews who recently celebrated 10 years as CIO at Oral Roberts University (ORU), "the art of communicating the value of every piece of technology will be crucial for next-gen CIOs on college campuses and beyond." As new technology costs (for both implementation and maintenance) continue to ramp up across vendors in higher education, next-gen CIOs will need to master the art of communicating to their president — and in some cases the university board — on technology investments. Gilbert Amelio, president and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp., further emphasizes the importance of communication in this quote: "Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others."

3) Find your "tribe": As a next-gen CIO, finding your "tribe" is a crucial art of succeeding in your role. Let me break this concept down. As a person of African descent, tribes were an important part of our culture. Some people would argue that tribalism did us more harm than good, as it led to division among different tribes. Others argue that on a positive note, tribalism fostered a sense of belonging, unity, and progress for all members of certain tribes. At this point, you are probably wondering, "how does this relate to a next-gen CIO? One of the unique things about tribes is that they have a common purpose and language that distinguishes them from others. This common language becomes a binding force and a way to stimulate progress. Similarly, universities and colleges are a type of "tribe." Each university in America is different in its mission and culture. Understanding the unique mission and culture of the tribe (university) is a vital element for the success of a next-gen CIO. Before accepting a job, the CIO must ask the right questions and more importantly put in the effort to study the university's mission and culture. Ultimately, not every job would be a great fit and next-gen CIOs must be okay with waiting for the right opportunity that aligns with their "tribe."

4) Seek mentors. One of the most iconic statements I learned in my formative years in college days at Covenant University are the words of Isaac Newton: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." In a world where many fly by the slogan of "self-made ___ (fill in the blank)," we have lost the concept of mentorship, which is one of the vital keys to stepping into new levels in career and business. Next-gen CIOs must be willing to learn from those who have gone ahead of them and are currently in CIO roles. The experience and counsel of more seasoned CIOs will prove invaluable for those who are looking to step into similar roles.

5) Be customer-centric. One of the pitfalls of many digital transformation efforts on campuses is the deviation from a customer-first approach to an "innovation-first" mindset. As next-gen CIOs prepare to step into new realms of influence within their organization, it is easy to focus on all the exciting new technologies and possibilities that exist without truly considering what the end users really need. Next-gen CIOs must be ready to employ a customer-first innovation model to promote the widespread adoption of any new technology solutions on their campuses.

About the Author

Victor Ekwere Jnr is director for Innovation, Operations and Solutions at Oral Roberts University.

comments powered by Disqus