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CIO skills: The right stuff for executive-board, CEO positions

Things may be looking up, up, up for CIOs.

Craig Stephenson, managing director at executive search outfit Korn Ferry, said CIO skills are being sought for corporate board or CEO positions.

Stephenson spoke to Nicole Laskowski, SearchCIO's senior news writer, at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. CIOs are joining boards at a fast clip, and in Fortune 500 companies, 33% of boards have a former CIO or CTO.

"There's a variety of reasons for it," Stephenson said. "The demands in terms of the budget dollars and the resources, the risks with cyber, resiliency; everything is a technology platform nowadays."

CIO skills are also being put to use in CEO positions, Stephenson said, partly because of the importance of technology in most businesses today -- and partly because many CIOs are becoming more comfortable being "front and center with clients and customers."

Also in this SearchCIO video, Stephenson talks about how technology executive are applying their CIO skills and adapting to the role of board member. He also discusses the titles of chief digital officer and chief data officer.

What skill sets does the board of directors look for when bringing a CIO onto the board?           

Stephenson: So, actually, we're seeing a lot of activity in that space right now. The CIO is the fastest-growing segment of board construct that we're actually working on right now. There's a variety of reasons for it: the demands in terms of the budget dollars and the resources, the risks with cyber, resiliency. Everything is a technology platform nowadays. So we actually are seeing boards move very quickly to ensure that they have CIOs or CTOs, current or former, sitting on the board. In addition, we're also seeing the construct of technology committees at the board level starting to oversee these activities and keep a very close eye on them day to day.

What can CIOs do to get to that executive-board level?

Stephenson: I think it's based on experience, tenure and the types of experiences that he or she may bring. It could be someone who has developed a lot of scar tissue from a particular experience of driving a company through transformation that's created meaningful results. It could be global scale. It's really situational, depending upon the board that we're talking about, but they will look to align experiences of that CIO or CTO with the needs of that particular organization so they can relate.

How can CIOs adapt to these new skill sets and responsibilities?

We actually are seeing boards move very quickly to ensure that they have CIOs or CTOs, current or former, sitting on the board.
Craig StephensonManaging director, executive search outfit Korn Ferry

Stephenson: It's a big change. It's a huge change over the last five to 10 years. We've actually seen a big movement at the board level the last couple of years in terms of CIOs joining the organizations. Within the Fortune 500 today, 33% of boards actually have a former CIO or CTO, and that continues to increase. We've got a number of engagements we're working on right now with similar requests from our clients. In terms of adapting, it's using some different skills than they've used in the past. Typically, a good CIO or CTO will have exposure to the board in terms of reporting on a quarterly basis, but becoming a board member, providing more of an audit-type function, is very different. They need to advise, they need to counsel, but obviously not get too mired in the day to day. So it's a different shift of skill sets.

Are CIOs becoming CEOs?

Stephenson: CIOs are definitely becoming CEOs. We've seen a couple of interesting statistics, and things in the market evolved over the last couple of years. Within the Fortune 500 today, for example, CIOs are now reporting to CEOs 56% of the time. That's up about 12% over the last five years. And depending upon the environment, the CIO touches the enterprise across the entire technology function, likely the platform, becoming much more comfortable with being front and center with clients and customers. And so the CIO is actually very well positioned to take even a greater stride towards becoming CEO in the future.

What trends are developing around the chief digital and chief data officer titles?

Stephenson: We're seeing a lot of titles. We're seeing chief digital officer, head of transformation and so on. The view that we typically see with our clients is the fact that it usually means transformation in some shape or form, attempting to modernize an organization. We've actually even seen modernization in a title over the last 12 months. So at the end of the day I do believe the digital officer title will likely go away. If it relates to a customer or a product, it will sit within the line of business. If it relates to technology, operations and other key functional areas, it'll be called just those particular functional names once again once this journey of modernization is complete.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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2016 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: The digital CIO has arrived

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