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How To Hire Your Next CIO

Business technology is in transition. Make sure your next CIO can rise to the challenge.

Hiring, Budget Concerns Top Of Mind For IT Leaders In 2016
Hiring, Budget Concerns Top Of Mind For IT Leaders In 2016
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

It's time to say goodbye to IT and say hello to something new, perhaps called "digital services." But getting there will take leadership. If you're hiring a new CIO, or are part of a team that's hiring a new CIO, it's a great opportunity to steer the ship in the right direction. 

While the specifics may vary from business to business, if you want a CIO who can pilot the ship through massive change in how we think about IT, I think you're looking for someone who will be able to (a) keep the lights on (but not to the exclusion of all else), (b) execute on a digital vision, and (c) be fiscally literate enough that she or he will gently push when the funding equation is out of whack.

Feel free to chime in below, but here are the top categories that I think you need to dig into during any CIO assessment:

Tech Savvy

Yes, that's right. The pendulum swung too far in the direction of "techie," especially during the 1980s. Now it has swung pretty far in the other direction: "nobody needs to know technology, we can get just an MBA to run IT!" Nope.

Getting the most out of business technology requires someone who understands technology -- an enlightened technologist, someone who has been a technologist and understands technologists. You can't just be "good with people," and expect to succeed. Success with business technology in the past, and success with digital services in the future, requires that the leader-in-charge be able to understand the underlying technology.

[Knowing what drives away your best IT workers offers clues about how to retain them. See 5 Ways To Lose Your Best IT Talent.]

A Strong Marketer and Communicator

Your new CIO will have to be a great communicator. That's nothing new. There will be plenty of vendor management, customer management, and employee management, and that requires precise, timely communication.


More than yesterday's CIO, the new CIO will need to understand and execute on mass communication directly to customers. 

(Image: amisb/iStockphoto)

(Image: amisb/iStockphoto)

We are in the age of "the new marketing" (inbound, content marketing, call it what you will).

Few understand it, and it's still emerging and evolving. Yet, our organizations will wither and die if your digital leader doesn't both understand it and execute on it.

In the same way that your CIO must be at least partially a technologist, your new CIO must be comfortable with marketing and communication. She or he will be more and more frequently directing communications on behalf of the organization and making sure that old-school, throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks marketers don't screw everything up. Your new CIO will help your organization understand what digital services are all about, but more importantly, will help your organization benefit.

Security Aware

It's not enough to have tech and marketing expertise. It would be foolish and naive to think that your organization can possibly succeed in creating digital services without a healthy dose of security policy and execution. The threat landscape gets worse every year.

Look for someone who isn't paralyzed by fear over security, but someone who isn't laissez-faire about it, either. It's not a must to hire an ex-CISO, but it will be helpful to hire someone who has had practical security expertise, particularly in risk management and in seeking funding to mitigate problems. Digital services can only succeed when they're secure.

Collaborative and Big Picture

Your new CIO can't be stuck in the weeds. He or she can't be married to marketing, can't be in love with the bits and the bytes, and can't be focused on security above everything else. Your new CIO must be flexible and have the big picture in mind.

Yes, expertise is needed in tech and marketing. But, above all else, your new CIO must be mission focused and business driven. 

Look for proof of competency. Jenn Taylor, COO of 501 Partners, a business technology consultancy, says that talking about the way that a CIO would manage is one thing. But he or she would also want people that the candidate had worked with to say, "This person actually listened to us and collaborated."

It's a great point. Look for someone with multiple references that prove expertise in all of the factors you want. Above all else, look for someone who was collaborative enough in previous roles to allow business partners to bring their expertise to the table.

That collaboration factor is the core of the new digital services model, and it's a must in your next CIO.

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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 ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Apprentice
2/24/2016 | 9:34:03 AM
Beware of Tunnel Vision
There are CIOs (some are now deservedly ex-CIOs) out there who bet their career on replacing mainframes in IT shops where that platform was quietly doing its job without presenting major challenges.  It's sad when a CEO reads an airline magazine ad that touts short-term cost savings via commodity hardware, then (s)he gathers a team of advisors who fail to look beyond the first few years of such an IT platform (hardware and software) change and almost universally fail to consider subsequent costs related to that change, such as data center cooling, electrical, square footage, HW & SW upgrades, staffing, etc.  Instead of viewing the mainframe as one of several computing platforms or the "center of gravity" platform, these CIOs who are perhaps too young for the position or otherwise inexperienced (line-of-business executive who talks a good tech game) kept doubling down on their bet that the mainframe platform was obsolete and needlessly expensive.  Hindsight is 20/20 and it's clear that plenty of these mistakes were made.  The problem will continue because so few people admit to having buyer's remorse, then just stay on the "new" path of spending more to get less.  How many CIO candidates out there have a truly open mind for today's mix of applications that could span on-premises, in the Cloud, mainframe, distributed and mobile?  Those apps don't even have to run completely in-house when considering SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. 
User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2016 | 12:44:58 PM
General CIO
The position of CIO is a strategic one. In a way much like a general or admiral. Like those positions, collaboration with other areas is critical to a missions success. But so is strategic thinking as opposed to someone who is good with bits and bytes or an administrator. A CIO has to be a visionary working with visionaries and to make his vision unique and valuable to the company. A difficult position especially since it is still not a position on par with other C-level positions in non tech companies.
User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2016 | 10:10:32 AM
sales engineer?
The top half of this position description sounds remarkably like facets of a sales engineer. Technology, security, communication, business.
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