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A Complete Guide to Chief Information Officers (CIOs)

Learn about the roles, responsibilities, and skills necessary for information technology professionals to thrive.

What is a chief information officer (CIO)? In short, CIOs are C-level executives who champion the use of technology for growth. Their roles and responsibilities vary from managing internal information technology (IT) operations to cultivating relationships with outside stakeholders. Whether an organization sells technology or not, all companies rely heavily on the opinions and expertise of technology-based leaders as they continue to navigate a world that embraces technology as a means of growth and innovation. In this article, we’ll dive into the roles and responsibilities of CIOs while also speaking to the skills that are necessary for chief information officers to thrive. 

What is a chief information officer? 

The CIO holds a great deal of responsibility. The person in this executive-level position is responsible for the information technology and information systems that support organizational goals.  On a typical day, the CIO is in charge of overseeing the people, processes, and technologies within a company’s IT department to ensure they ship products or deliver results that support organizational goals and outcomes. In conjunction with other C-level executives, the chief information officer is responsible for leading and relaying the organization’s technology strategy, acting as a liaison between the technology department and the remainder of the organization. 

Roles and responsibilities include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Overseeing relationships with teammates 
  • Developing and overseeing the IT budget
  • Hosting cross-functional, educational meetings 
  • Managing IT staff and developing department goals
  • Developing IT policies, procedures, and best practices
  • Managing the organization’s software development needs
  • Explaining the benefits and risks of new IT-related projects
  • Developing and enforcing IT best practices amongst teams 
  • Remaining up to date on IT trends and emerging technologies
  • Planning, deploying, and maintaining IT systems and operations
  • Ensuring IT strategies and processes support company-wide goals and objectives

Be an effective Chief Information Officer

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Why is a CIO important? 

CIOs are a fundamental pillar of every organization. Not only do they provide a great deal of value as a member of the C-suite, but they are also a necessity in today’s day and age. In an increasingly technological and data-driven world, chief information officers continue to take on more responsibility while playing a strategic role that greatly impacts their organization’s bottom line. 

What does a chief information officer do?

1Handles the organization’s software needs

In addition to championing technology within the organization, CIOs are also responsible for handling all software needs. Whether an organization develops software in-house to provide internal or external solutions, or white labels or leverages existing software to serve a purpose, the CIO will be responsible for devising a plan and determining what’s best. 

2Researches existing and emerging technologies

Chief information officers need to prioritize perpetual learning. Not only are they responsible for researching and understanding current technological trends, but they also need to research emerging technologies in an attempt to streamline and improve existing processes and outcomes. Reading reports or new studies should constantly be top of mind, with the goal of improving internal processes and communication channels while remaining competitive. 

3Manages the IT department

Chief information officers are responsible for managing IT departments in their entirety. This means managing all employees within the IT department and making sure these employees have everything they need to succeed. On any given day, the CIO will be responsible for answering employee questions, monitoring the overall progress within the IT department, and ensuring that all employees are working towards achieving organizational goals.

4Develops IT budgets

CIOs are responsible for managing the IT department in its entirety, so they’re also responsible for overseeing the department’s budget and making the proper investments. In addition to being technologically sound, CIOs need to be skilled in finance and accounting in order to properly manage the department’s budget. 

5Successfully implements new technologies

Implementing new technologies is a huge responsibility, which is why CIOs take on this duty. When implementing new technologies, a variety of factors need to be considered. CIOs need to be well versed in the technological landscape of their respective industry while weighing the pros and cons of implementing said technology and making sure the new implementation is adopted well by employees. 

6Works closely with other company executives

As a C-level executive and a leader within the organization, the CIO is responsible for collaborating and working with other executives to ensure the IT department is contributing to meeting organizational goals. In addition, the chief information officer needs to convey the IT department’s progress or shortcomings to other company executives to keep everyone up to date and identify solutions. 

7Oversees the company’s current technologies

In addition to exploring new technologies, CIOs are also responsible for overseeing the organization’s existing technologies. This entails making sure existing technologies are optimized and serving the organization well, while taking security and efficiency into consideration. 

8Maintains relationships with vendors

All C-level executives need to be champions at cultivating and maintaining relationships. As the chief information officer, this C-level executive is largely responsible for cultivating and maintaining external relationships that may benefit the organization’s technological needs. 

What 8 skills do CIOs need?

1Technical depth

As technical leaders, CIOs need to have an in-depth knowledge of technological areas. In some cases, CIOs may require more technical knowledge, whereas other CIOs may lean on their teammates for their expertise. Without an in-depth knowledge of technology, the CIO will not be able to lead other technologically minded employees or make technology-based decisions that benefit the organization. 

2Project management

As stated above, chief information officers are responsible for managing the IT department in its entirety. This means they must be extremely organized and detail-oriented. This leadership role entails motivating employees within the IT department while simultaneously overseeing projects and ensuring the right people are working on the right projects.

3Leadership

Like any C-level executives, chief information officers need to be skilled leaders. C-level management positions go far beyond the principles of traditional management, meaning the individuals in these positions need to be committed to refining their leadership skills while making growth a priority. A successful CIO will be able to motivate the IT department while ensuring each employee has everything they need to succeed in a healthy and efficient work environment.

4Delegation 

Chief information officers take on a lot of responsibility and have very busy schedules. As a result, it’s simply not possible for them to take on everything by themselves. Delegating empowers leaders to build trust amongst their teams while helping the executive gain a clearer understanding of which team members are best suited for the tasks or projects at hand. 

5Teamwork 

An effective CIO will be able to facilitate exceptional teamwork processes amongst their team members while inspiring them to share their talents and energy in an open, non-judgmental environment. In other words, chief information officers should be able to inspire teamwork amongst employees while simultaneously being exceptional team players themselves.

6Organization

Leaders who are organized are able to better allocate their time, while leaders who aren’t organized are more likely to spend their time putting out fires or reacting to situations. Successful CIOs will prioritize organization and be proactive so they can spend their time working on tasks that move the needle forward instead of backtracking and scrambling to piece together solutions. 

7Risk management 

Chief information officers need to be able to identify potential risks while implementing preventative measures to decrease the risk of potential issues. An example of a potential risk that may arise in a technology-based organization is a major security breach which could cascade into a whole host of problems. A responsible CIO will have accounted for this risk and implemented practices that ensure the organization’s data remains secure. 

8Communication

CIOs need to be exceptional communicators. Not only are they responsible for relaying company goals and objectives to the IT department, but they are also responsible for relaying all updates on behalf of the IT department to other departments within the organization. Chief information officers will also be responsible for communicating efficiently and cross-functionally to ensure all departments are on the same page and working cohesively. 

Chief information officer vs. chief technology officer

Whether an organization chooses to employ a C-level executive with a CIO or chief technology officer (CTO) title largely depends on the company culture. Some people hold the CTO title with little to no difference from the roles and responsibilities of a CIO, whereas some CTOs focus more heavily on external products. A simple distinction between the two roles is that a CIO typically looks inward and aims to improve processes within the company, whereas the CTO primarily looks outward and strives to improve products or processes that serve the customer.

Parting advice

In conclusion, a CIO or chief information officer is a C-level executive who deals with information technology and computer systems. While CIOs take on a great deal of responsibility, their main prerogative is to champion the use of technology within the organization while managing the IT department and ensuring all IT employees are working efficiently and cohesively with modern, well-kept technology that serves organizational needs. In a world where technology continues to push to the forefront, the role of CIO continues to become more and more important.


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About the author

Hannah Ross

Hannah Ross is an experienced content creator and digital strategist with a demonstrated history of working with SaaS startups and technical founders to develop and manage scalable digital marketing campaigns. As a Social Media and Content Marketing Lead in the tech space, Hannah is incredibly passionate about solving complex marketing problems with innovative solutions.

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