Gartner: How CIOs can build an executive career

As business priorities change and evolve, so do enterprise expectations of the CIO and IT organization. According to the 2008 Gartner Survey of CIOs, enterprises expect to invest proportionally more in distinctive technology solutions that address unique business needs, and less in commodity technologies. The reason for this shift is simple: Marketplace differentiation requires C-level leaders to be focused, committed and able to drive change across their organization – with direct, positive impact on the bottom line (or gains for the political agenda of a government agency).

As a consequence of this evolution, CIOs now need to dust off their succession plans and take out their old time-management diaries: it is time to do less yourself and instead get your direct reports to help you do more. CIOs who have a strong business orientation and leave operational aspects of their jobs to staff members derive two key benefits: their example will teach their IT people the importance of business leadership and the critical role that technology plays in enterprise growth, and they will be free to devote their energy to being business leaders and business peers themselves.

This evolution of the CIO’s focus in turn leads to an evolution of the role. The CIO role is increasingly viewed as a passport for traveling through the C-level suite. A CIO has an opportunity to build an enterprisewide business perspective, strengthening many C-level capabilities and opening up different career path opportunities.


Aside from performing their defined role, CIOs with business experience are using their knowledge to uncover and seize opportunities to address top-priority enterprise needs. This role expansion reinforces their reputation as leaders who deliver – a trait that appeals to the CEO.

Of course, a CIO’s first move is to demonstrate solid IT leadership, standardizing and rationalizing IT to ensure that the core is stable and the basics are running well. Then it’s time to look for opportunities that are meaningful to the business.

Business-oriented CIOs are biased toward change and growth. They proactively identify business problems, then propose and deliver transformational solutions, which may include an ERP implementation, running an ecommerce business, or taking on P&L responsibilities. As a result, they build a reputation for performance that serves as a personal brand for their career. They let their successes speak for them.

You’ll know you’ve built a distinguishing personal brand for yourself when technology providers ask you to speak at their events or request that you showcase to their customers what you’ve accomplished with their products. Moreover, your successes will enable you to become top of mind with the CEO when new opportunities arise.

It makes sense for CIOs aiming for other C-level positions to look first within their own backyard because it is there that they’ve established an expanded view of the business and a reputation for delivery. Otherwise, the next best course may be to move to an information- or technology-intensive company where a CIO background might be quickly leveraged into other C-level positions.

The roles of the chief administrative officer, chief human resources officer and chief operating officer are all fairly natural career progressions for the CIO, requiring little or no special preparation. A CFO needs financial credentials, so moving into this career can present a challenge for many CIOs.

With only one CEO at the top of each enterprise, few executives ever reach that position. The role is an option for CIOs but requires further preparation, including well-rounded education and experience combined with a vision for the enterprise.

Today, CIOs have a legitimate opportunity to expand their role into business leadership or move to another C-level executive position. Leveraging your CIO experience is bound to put you on a career path that is profitable, personally rewarding and intellectually stimulating.

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