The 9 Important Skills Business Leaders Must Learn From The Modern CIO Mindset

Written by EO Executives on Jun 07, 2016

 Technological advancements, smarter and quicker ways of developing products, regulatory changes and a huge shift in customer (and employee!) expectations are shaping the way companies do business.

As an Executive Search specialist focusing on CIOs, CTOs and Heads of IT, I’m privileged to meet lots of innovative, forward thinking leaders who have a real focus on moving their businesses forward digitally. These technology leaders are ideally placed to learn from the innovation happening around them, and channel that creativity and best practice into both their business functions and their own personal careers.

 “The modern CIO should be highly commercial and data hungry.  More of a business/innovation leader… Data and Insight is the key enabler of a digital strategy.” James Fairhurst, CIO Brightside Group

Not All Business Functions Have Kept Up With Innovation

As the world becomes increasingly digital, this adaptation to new ways of working and thinking hasn’t always filtered through to business leaders in other functions. A colleague of mine, Andrew MacAskill recently wrote a great article about how your whole entire board needs to change its mindset to enable growth and innovation by spotting the dinosaurs in your boardroom.

These ‘laggards’ who are slower to change and more reluctant to adapt to new ways of working could learn a great deal from CIOs, and from a businesses point of view, this ‘digital mindset’ needs to be aligned throughout the enterprise in order to maximise growth potential.

"There are two people that Business Leaders need to be very close to and who work across the entire organisation.

The first is obvious and is the CFO. The second is the modern Digital CIO. Likewise s/he has insight right across an organisation from a process and functional perspective and in the increasing online world is able to tell you how quick to design, build and launch a product for maximum revenue and benefit.Ian Campbell, CIO at Stagecoach Rail




So What Are The Cornerstones Of The CIOs Mindset?

According to Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda report, 40% of CIOs report that they are the leaders of digital transformation in their enterprise, and the table below highlights the 9 key areas where the shift in the modern CIO mindset helps propel businesses forwards.

"The next wave of industrialisation will focus on data, putting the customer in charge and placing information at the heart of the organisation. Business models will be disrupted, which will bring new opportunities built for the digital age, with mobile, data analytics and cloud technology at the heart.

To thrive in the new digital economy, the modern day CIO will need to be a key business enabler, introducing new capabilities and competencies, such as BI and customer journey analytics, to unlock data as a new form of competitive advantage." Ian Alderton, Former Managing Director at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi

Traditional Mindset vs Digital Mindset:



If you find yourself in any of the ‘Traditional’ brackets, then you may need to TRANSFORM:

1. Trust your team

Gone are the days of ivory towers and hierarchical ‘leadership’. Not only will a non-collegiate approach disengage your staff (who will leave…believe me) but you’ll also miss out on some excellent ideas and won’t benefit from other perspectives. Trust your team, empower them, and build a culture of collaboration whilst sharing in success.

Employee engagement leads to long-term customer satisfaction. Richard Branson knows a thing or two about this.



2. Recruit Superstars

Your previous ‘low cost’ hiring strategy just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Quite simply you should search for and hire only the top 10% of talent, or risk your business being swallowed up by more innovative competitors.

This if of course easier said than done. Creating a compelling Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and having clarity around exactly what your organisation has to offer an individual can take a while to get right.  This article from seasoned HR Dirctor and Talent Management expert Jeff Wellstead talks about how employee expectations have changed, and how you can evolve too.

You’ll also probably want to also consider using digital hiring techniques for your search and assessment and partner with a niche specialist.

3. Act on Data

According to Martha Bennett, Principle Analyst serving CIOs at Forrester Research, “What organisations need to do to win in the digital economy, is focus on the capabilities, competencies and culture that close the gap between all the data available, and the ability to turn that data into insight”.

Big data and modern BI technologies now allow you to structure your data and predict customer behaviour in ways that just weren’t possible before. The amount of data held by large corporations puts them at a massive advantage over new entrants, but the constraints of their legacy infrastructure often makes this incredibly difficult to organise and make sense of.

Ensuring that your data quality is high and unlocking the meaning behind it will help you gain real competitive advantage in marketing, CX and forecasting.

4. New Technology investment

New investment is highly important, but NOT just investment for the sake of it. As Jim Collins outlines in his Good to Great book, technology should be thought of as a business enabler and the ROI/Commercial benefits of introducing new technologies should be well considered. CIOs will likely be working closely with CTOs and staying close to upcoming/new technologies as well as taking notice of what their competitors are investing in. It’s all to easy for business leaders to be too introspective in my experience, and over time this erodes competitive advantage.

"Taking responsibility for facilitating cross-functional business teams the CIO makes the critical difference between the next best online product (or service) for the company or makes them go bust by launching a disaster." Ian Campbell, CIO at Stagecoach Rail

5. Shift your strategy

Focusing on innovation as well as efficiency of existing systems can sometimes feel overwhelming but to thrive in today’s global marketplace you must do both simultaneously.

Good companies do both, but great ones understand the timing of each and prioritize accordingly


6. Focus on customer experience. Become customer obsessed!

Customer service and support desks have always been the focus when assessing customer experience (CX), but to me, CX should be considered at every interaction between brands and individuals – long before they feel the need to engage a support desk.

Digital technology makes it easier now to engage with your audience, and predictive analytics mean that you can effectively forecast buying cycles and customer behaviour.

According to a study by Econsultancy and IBM, 69% of marketers believe strongly in their ability to deliver superior experiences online…yet 51% of customers who left a company blamed bad online experiences! Something is awry here…

Further studies from Forrester Research backs up the importance of focusing on CX. They found a strong correlation between higher rates of revenue growth and two major factors: a better customer experience and a concerted effort to be insights-driven.

"If there's one word that's not used enough in this whole digital lexicon its "adaptive". There is no single digital journey for an organisation. Yours will be different to mine and mine will be different to others. Digital transformation (or the digital journey) is company specific so it amazes me how CEOs go running to Accenture or Delloitte or whoever and feeling content when they wheel out some identikit PowerPoint. Smart companies will observe, engage, learn adapt and then adapt again

What all good CIOs know is (to quote terminator) the future is not set. There are many twists and turns so the key is to build flexibility and adaptability into everything they do. Sure, you may feel the need to define an outcome, but never prescribe the route and always be open to the possibility that you may find many other possible outcomes en route." Ian Cohen, Managing Director at Lumen 360

7. Outsource to experts

Historically companies were required to buy, build, and maintain their IT infrastructures and absorb all the costs involved. SaaS gives companies an alternative. Now they can plug in and subscribe to services built on shared infrastructure via the Internet. The SaaS model is booming and with subscription based services instead of licence fees resulting in lower hardware costs (not to mention the cost of the employees required to manage it!) it’s a model that is only growing in popularity.

8. Recognise customer needs in your sales approach

Especially if you business sells to other businesses, your clients will likely be looking for strategic partners who are able to consult and advise. To this end, a consultative sales approach will reap dividends.

By partnering strategically with your clients, not only will you be able to build long term relationships, but you will also be able to use the information gathered to shape your future product development and CX.

9. Move at pace and increase agility

Organisational agility is about how quickly an organisation can change direction. With the pace of change constantly increasing, leaders need to be able to make smart decisions at pace, implementing solutions in short time frames.

Simply put this means banishing procrastination – something that became Facebook’s mantra and is written on three posters in their head offices.



Agile project management methodologies should no longer be something you just pay lip service to. Ensure you maintain your competitive advantage with timely product releases and ongoing software updates. So many organisations preach about their agile approach but my experience is that few do this properly.  These methodologies were designed for software development releases of course, but the best businesses out there are implementing these ideas across other business functions and projects.

I talk in more detail about the benefits of agility and some of the barriers in one of my other blogs: Why Agility is the King of the Financial Services Jungle 

What Next

The CIO mindset has many attributes that can and should be brought over to other business leaders and their functions. Being in recruitment, the biggest impact I see is the result of hiring top people with the right behaviours. A leadership team with the right blend of skills and behaviours can achieve incredible things, so before your next important senior hire, make sure you download my ebook on running a world class hiring process.





















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