5 Skills CEOs Prize In CIOs

You want to be a CIO? The road to the top isn't about what you want. It's about fulfilling the expectations of your boss and peers.

Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

February 24, 2014

3 Min Read

and covering from vendors: bad idea, too, as you'll miss opportunities. Your boss expects you to find the sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

Required development: See customer management, plus negotiation skills. Vendor-phobes need not apply.

4. Financial management
IT is expensive. The CEO, CFO, and your business unit peers all know it, and they want someone at the helm who's financially literate, even savvy. You must avoid looking like a finance newb.

Some tips: Don't factor in soft cost savings such as reduced labor into your ROI estimates unless you plan to lay someone off. Understand the time value of money. Don't save $20,000 and create $20 million of risk or liability. Know the difference between a credit and a debit, and how accrual is different from cash. Be willing to say no to your staff when it's not clear how a proposed expense will serve the business.

Calculate operations versus capital expenses in the time frame that your finance office uses, and use their cost of capital for present value calculations. Realize that cash flow matters. Understand how the "fully burdened" cost of an employee at your organization compares to using contractors instead, including healthcare and other benefits. Vigorously and continuously cut expenses so that you can use savings to fund new initiatives instead of showing up to the budget office for each project with hat in hand.

Required development: Accounting, budgeting, and financial management skills. Those who can't balance a checkbook need not apply.

5. Internal reporting
I'll say it again: IT is a huge investment. You'd better tell the boss and your business unit peers what you've done for them lately or expect to join the ranks of "cost center" in their minds.

Report your accomplishments. To build credibility, be honest about your organization's challenges and screw-ups and how your team responded to them. Even if you're reporting on what FedEx CIO Rob Carter calls "the ugly picture," such honest assessments will help business partners decide whether additional investments are needed.

Celebrate successes, but include your partners in the celebrations. Keep track of how, exactly, your IT organization compares financially to other organizations in your industry. Either wow your boss and peers with how much less you're spending, or demonstrate that you're spending a bit more to get a higher level of service.

Absent thorough internal business reporting, your boss and peers will wonder what the heck you're doing all day with all that cool tech.

Required development: See financial management, plus writing, communications, and marketing. Liars need not apply.

Note that technology expertise isn't explicitly in any of these expectations of the CIO. It is, of course, buried in many of them: You can't call BS on vendors or your technical staff without being technically savvy yourself. You can't evaluate whether a customer request is reasonable without being technically savvy. And you can't assess a technology's risk without understanding it.

There is one job in IT that, if you do it right, does offer an opportunity to practice many of these skills, and I think it's the best possible preparation for the CIO role. I'll discuss it during my Interop "So You Want To Be A CIO" session on April 2 at Interop in Las Vegas. Meantime, see if you can guess what it is in the Comments field below. We'll send a small prize to the first person who guesses right.

Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.

About the Author(s)

Jonathan Feldman

CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human resources management. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of many new breweries, including New Belgium's east coast expansion. During Jonathan's leadership, the City has been recognized nationally and internationally (including the International Economic Development Council New Media, Government Innovation Grant, and the GMIS Best Practices awards) for improving services to citizens and reducing expenses through new practices and technology.  He is active in the IT, startup and open data communities, was named a "Top 100 CIO to follow" by the Huffington Post, and is a co-author of Code For America's book, Beyond Transparency. Learn more about Jonathan at Feldman.org.

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