Successful CIOs have a core set of skills and roles which allows them to succeed in an age of complexity and constantly shifting business requirements.
In the 1960s, information technology (IT) was a back-room, low-prestige operation. The "electronic data processing (EDP) manager" would typically not be on the same social, educational, or organizational level as, for example, the vice president (VP) of finance or the head of manufacturing. Roll forward to the 21st century and the CIO is now blessed with acceptance into the "senior leadership club" but challenged by responsibilities never imagined in the past.
Following are some of the roles the new CIO is expected to play:
Providing technical strategy that seamlessly segues into the corporate business strategy — even in the absence of a well-defined business plan and implementation road map. As Sun Tzu said, "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
Maintaining a computing and communications (people, data, phone, cell, etc.) infrastructure that is always available.
Having knowledge and foresight enough to develop an architecture that, after implementation, enables the business to provide many new services, reduce costs, and streamline operations with existing infrastructure and systems. In other words, you can avoid the scenario where the chief executive officer (CEO) says "I want to do X" and your response is usually "Great, we'll need to install Y to make it happen and it will cost $Z."
Ensuring that the IT portfolio fund is utilized and managed properly. Dollars go toward high-value return-on-investment (ROI) projects that support the business strategy.
Hiring the right people, having a tier one Rolodex, chock-a-block full of trusted contractors, and retaining high performers.
Developing and maintaining a spot-on IT governance structure that does all the things governance is supposed to do — ensure alignment with business goals, ensure proper controls (e.g., change management, security), provide communications up and down the management chain, monitor progress, and manage risk.
Proactively develop strategic project ideas and suggestions for the business — "the art of the possible." This is the opposite of the order-taker perspective of your muscle car era predecessors.
Working to seamlessly integrate acquisitions into the IT/business fabric of the organization, or inversely, help to divest subsidiaries without undue disruption.
Keeping the lid on expenses. Not only do the high-profile new projects need to be managed, but the day-to-day operating expenses and budget must be scrutinized as well.
Translate, communicate, and educate. To paraphrase former President George H.W Bush, you need to promote the "vision thing." Short-term thinking is the enemy of effective IT, and the CIO must constantly translate (from "geek speak" to English) and communicate (two way) with the business — here is the plan, here are the benefits, and here is what will happen if we take a short-term, expedient approach. Assume, for example, that your users have always used bicycles to get to work. You suggest an automobile. "Good idea," they say, "but we're used to handlebars and this steering wheel feels awkward; let's install handlebars in the automobiles." At that point, you and the user's management need to communicate so that the message to the users is clear — we are going to have a little short-term pain for some long-term benefit.