Proposing that you own the relationship with your business, as a CIO, you must have that breadth and depth of understanding. What are your thoughts on how to best learn some of the things that we need to know?

18.5k views5 Upvotes11 Comments

CIO in Software, 501 - 1,000 employees
No matter where you came from, if you become a CIO, you instantly are going to have to fake it on all sorts of subjects because there's no way anyone is an expert on everything. And then behind the scenes, frantically be learning. Learning from other people who've done it, is the most useful thing. I have to say, honestly, my favorite thing about being CIO is being part of the CIO community. CIOs are especially good at networking. So I've really found that now when I talk to people who are not CIOs, my biggest piece of advice to them is to go and create the kind of networking opportunity that CIOs have.

CIOs have the advantage that quite often things are arranged for them. There'll be a vendor CIO event that will bring CIOs together. But CISE is a great example. It is a CIO group here in the Bay area, that's completely member organized. In other words, no vendor is creating it, and there're no vendor involved at all. We take turns hosting at our office locations. We create the content, get together once a month and share information with each other over a round table. We've also got a Slack channel where we are able to talk to each other.

Now, that's a very small, close knit group. Then there's things like Pulse Q&A, and other resources like that which are bigger and broader. They're all valuable, you should be doing all of it. You should be having lunch with a small number of peers on a regular basis. You should be on the forums in a place like Pulse Q&A. That external connection is where all the goodness is. If you think about it, it's almost like you can take that theme of get out of your office and go into the community of your peers. Get out of even your industry, hear from other people who do your work business for different kinds of companies. That's where you're going to get the ideas and the learning and stimulation.

Otherwise, you're in a bubble. And all you know is the stuff you know. You're not going to progress that far. You're going to be in that stagnant state, which is the worst state to be in. To me, that whole piece around networking is huge. Honestly, until I was a CIO, I didn't fully understand that. And now that I understand it, I'm sort of trying to evangelize it to people. If no one is organizing a lunch for your peers, go find some of your peers and organize a lunch.

Pulse Q&A and various places are doing the same thing. If you're looking something up and you're like, "I can't seem to find an answer to this", start a new topic. You can be the one that initiates the conversation that says, "Hey, I'm trying to figure out this, does anyone know?" Again, you'll be amazed at how generous we all are with each other. Because everybody loves to feel like they're able to help someone out. We've all been helped out, and I think we all have that “I want to pay it forward” feeling inside of us. So, all you have to do is put yourself out there and say, "Hey, I have this question." And all sorts of good things will come to you.
Chief Information Officer in Manufacturing, 10,001+ employees
I think the biggest thing to learn or more importantly do is to build relationships and trust. You've become the strategic technology arm of the business. You won't know everything but what you know is important to the senior leadership or else they wouldn't have put you in that role.  
CEO in Services (non-Government), 2 - 10 employees
It is very difficult to have the breadth and depth in everything before you become a CIO. A large part of CIO come from the IT organization and do not have the depth and breadth. However, it is crucial to build relationships quickly to create the trust. Then bring your consulting skills to play and ask as many questions as it takes. With the trust built up, the business will answer questions so you can deliver what they are looking for. One advice from my experience... ask more “what” questions and not “why” questions. Why questions make the feeling of questioning while what questions give a sense of wanting to learn. 
Group Chief Information Officer in Construction, 5,001 - 10,000 employees
I believe understanding your industry, your business ,and your market are all very essential and you can’t achieve that without strong networking with the industry with key people in your organization and even with your competitors. Attending industry conferences and make sure you are there in all activities and social events will help
CIO in Media, 2 - 10 employees
My experience of being a CIO over the better part of 20 years has highlighted the journey of understanding plus personal growth that one is constantly on. Being open to learning and constantly asking questions while listening are key traits you should adopt when entering the exciting world of the CIO. Funny enough its not about technology as much as it is about the business. Also realize early that failure is a constant in the CIO's life. So as they say fail fast and recover faster. Being business savvy means really really understanding the heartbeat of whatever industry you're in. Outside support in both technology and from a business perspective requires constantly building trusted networks of advisers. Both on a personal level as well as in business. Great CIOs are known for their versatility, tenacity and relationship development ability. We wear many hast simultaneously and can deal with high degrees of stress coupled with ambiguity. That said we are still foremost "normal" people with an abnormal technology bent.
CTO in Software, 11 - 50 employees
Very good answers here. I just want to add more on the market. CIOs can work for very different companies. If one move from a Telco to a Power Company, for example, things might change a lot. They have to understand what the company does, how the users consume and log information. How the market is related to it. How specific production machinery work and can deliver information. And at the same, have a good filter to understand when the knowledge is deep enough, after all there are several other things to learn in other areas and tech as well.
CEO & Founder in Software, 11 - 50 employees
IMO it's a fallacy that as a leader you have to know everything. Just like a CEO doesn't have all the answers and relies on it's leadership team, the CIO is no different. But there are few fundamentals that a CIO should possess in order to be effective:

1. True understanding of the company vertical: This essentially means knowing the domain your company operates in. Their relative strengths and weaknesses and opportunities ahead in the marketplace. This gives you a clear vantage point to introduce digital technologies for competitive advantage. So as a CIO, if you are new to a specific vertical, try to find peer mentors (CIO and business leaders) that can help you during the transition. 

2. Master few parts of the business that you see critical and have enough breadth for others to make sure you can ask the right questions. Hire leaders on your team that can complement you and bring diversity of knowledge. It's hard to master every domain within your business,

3. Engage with other leaders on a regular basis and pick their brains about critical topics in your area. This gives you an opportunity to indulge in divergent thinking.

4. It's ok sometimes to say, "I'll get back to you". Lack of answer on the spot is not an indictment on your competency. 

5. Be inquisitive and open to learning. We all are on a journey. :)
1 1 Reply
Director of Technology Strategy in Services (non-Government), 2 - 10 employees

I agree with this. It's more important that the CIO knows where to get the answers from than has all the answers themselves.

This does mean needing to know what skills they don't have as much as what skills they do.

And then filling this gaps with the right (best) people.

Senior Director - Enterprise IT & Cloud Transformation in Services (non-Government), 10,001+ employees
Participate in business reviews with openness and try identify pain points or roadblocks where CIO office can create workaround or solution. Progressive actions for incremental enhancements than perfections in solio
CEO in Services (non-Government), Self-employed
Be proactive and befriend people in all areas of the business and at all levels. Listen and learn about their day to day, personal aspirations, goals and particularly their challenges. Become a sounding board, a confidante or a trusted advisor.    Sure, it takes time and effort to build trusted relationships but when you do,  these folks become your mentors, your supporters and your allies. 

Secondly, if you come from the industry leverage your personal network to become more visible within it.  Participate in industry groups or associations, volunteer for a committee, because you'll learn a lot more about your employer from the outside-looking-in, (e.g., how it's perceived in the market)  and the deeper your industry knowledge, the more you can share with your business colleagues in the way of asking for feedback on ideas you may have and need support for. e.g. digital transformation, cloud, edge, security, AI..... 

Lastly be innovative, treat the ITO like a for profit business and the business' customers as your primary customer.   Because the best accolade you can have comes from a customer of the firm who benefited by your actions directly or indirectly.
3 1 Reply
CIO in Education, 1,001 - 5,000 employees

+1 !!

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