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Why CIOs need greater influencing skills – and how they can improve them

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio)

Organisations are now more committed to digital transformation than ever before and we know that IT budgets are also growing rapidly, with a 3.2 per cent increase   in the past year according to Gartner. With such a significant percentage increase, the role of both the CIO and the IT function itself must evolve to reflect this new level of responsibility.

IT is no longer purely focused on the implementation and management of technology systems. This in turn has complicated and elevated the role the CIO needs to play in that CIOs must now become strategic leaders, developing the skills to communicate their strategy to the rest of the business.

A data report we commissioned with the Financial Times Focus has demonstrated this. Surveying 550 C-suite technology and finance leaders from more than 12 countries and across nine industries, the report showed that a massive 71 per cent of C-level executives agree that the IT function needs greater influencing skills.

In order to establish themselves in this new role, CIOs need to get better at communicating with the rest of the business, combining this with their existing technical expertise and ability to manage the IT portfolio. Only then can they step up and steer the business towards successful digital transformation and sustainable growth.

Digital disruption within the C-suite

Digital transformation’s impact on C-suite relations is a key driver for this need for CIOs to gain better influencing skills. Forty-seven per cent of respondents in our report agreed that it has blurred the lines of responsibility between the members of the C-suite. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for the IT function to make itself heard in relation to strategic decisions.

Our research also shows that a third of leaders believe that there is a lack of agreement within the C-suite on how to allocate investments in new technologies. If, for instance, a CIO wanted to abandon the traditional fixed technology strategy, they need to be able to demonstrate the need and projected value of doing so in order to push this forward.

As every business becomes a technology business, the scope of IT departments continues to grow. CIOs, at the helm of the department, must be able to communicate their ideas effectively to the leadership team in language that can be understood. This is key to helping the organisation through the process of digital transformation.

Adopting a portfolio approach

One way CIOs can become influencers is by demonstrating the strategic thinking behind their decisions. The IT function is the primary driver of digital transformation, but it needs to be able to support its recommendations with results that show that its operations contribute positively towards the growth of the business.

However, with limited resources and time, this may come as a serious challenge. One of the solutions to this issue is using a portfolio approach to manage the organisation’s IT assets. Fifty-three per cent of respondents in our data report say that their organisation is increasingly adopting a portfolio approach to managing its IT assets, and 47 per cent say that this approach enables them to determine which assets or investments will drive competitive advantage. 

Adopting a portfolio approach enables the CIO to match investments to their corresponding objectives and to balance risk against performance. This strategy can help to pinpoint which assets and investments are likely to drive growth. It’s also crucial that they identify the right tools to help map the value of these assets and investments, in turn helping them make the right decisions for their portfolio.

Pursuing the role of an “evangelist”

Atticus Tysen, CIO at Inuit, rightly points out that the CIO’s job is, “not to be the smartest technologist in the room, it’s to raise the technology acumen of the entire room”. CIOs’ responsibility now is to make sure that their own influencing skills are up to par in order to make this happen. They should become a kind of evangelist for the IT function as a whole, and in turn pass this evangelism onto their teams.

The vast majority of leaders we surveyed (71 per cent) agreed on the fact that their IT function’s influencing skills need to improve in order to ensure the efficient delivery of new products and investments. They need to be able to effectively explain specific technologies and their advantages to other members of the C-suite in order to rally their support.

CIOs must also improve their powers of persuasion so that they can galvanise the rest of the IT function. Improving these soft skills will help them turn colleagues into fellow evangelists. Ensuring that the entire team is well-equipped with influencing skills in addition to the technical skills they already possess will mean that the IT function can present a unified front to the organisation. Every member of the IT team can then advocate for new technology investments to the rest of the business – which will strengthen the CIO’s position.

The increase in IT investment and the lack of consensus within the C-suite may have complicated the duties of the CIO, but this should also be seen as an opportunity. In the new digital era, the CIO can become a key influencer within the organisation’s leadership team. By developing the skills needed to become an effective communicator, the CIO can help guide the business towards a future in which there is greater unity among the C-suite, and by extension a more cohesive business strategy being pursued by all.

Henrik Nilsson, VP EMEA, Apptio