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Searching for a Unicorn: What to Look for in a CIO

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A chief information officer (CIO) is responsible for driving innovation and the organization’s digital transformation. These professionals actually play between the worlds of technology and business, so they have to have the traits and experience from both sides. 

If you’re looking for the CIO with a combination of technical expertise, emotional intelligence, a business mindset, and on-point communication skills—you’re searching for a unicorn. We’re not talking about a fabulously successful startup, but the near-mythological person that encompasses every trait that makes for an outstanding CIO. 

Keep reading to learn what you should be looking for in a CIO unicorn.

Technical Skills

First and foremost, your CIO unicorn needs to have the right technical skills for your business. They will be the point person when it comes to selecting and implementing infrastructure, managing vendors, setting goals and strategies for the IT department, and a lot more. So, to do all of that, they need a firm grasp on the tech they’re working with. 

You’ll also want to ensure that your candidate has any necessary industry-specific technology covered. For example, if a car dealership is looking for a CIO, they would benefit by hiring someone with experience in various dealership platforms, such as Dominion Dealer Solutions, Reynolds and Reynolds, and Epicor (Formerly Activant).

In general, look for a CIO candidate that has knowledge and background in:

  • IT Strategy
  • Software Development
  • Cloud computing
  • IT Management
  • Cloud architecture 
  • Technical compliance regulations

Business Acumen 

CIOs today also need to have a grasp of traditional business and how to improve financial performance. What you don’t want is a CIO with “shiny object syndrome” who gets distracted by all the features of new platforms and doesn’t weigh the pros and cons. They should have a solid understanding of technology ROI and how to integrate it into the organization’s day-to-day operations.  

CIO unicorns can talk to their boards about business models, the organization’s competitive landscape, and the benefits of technology for their bottom line. Many CIOs find it necessary to persuade their executives to think differently about their companies as they participate in digital transformation. 

Look for a CIO candidate with experience in:

  • Business Analysis
  • Business Intelligence  
  • Program Management
  • Business Process
  • Business Process Improvement 

Bridge between Worlds

So you found someone that has the right technical background and the business sense to go along with it. But can they communicate back and forth between those two worlds?

Let’s face it, the IT department and the C-suite rarely speak the same language. A CIO unicorn bridges the gap between them by translating technical jargon into layman’s terms and can take goals from the C-level and turn them into IT strategies and plans. 

Your CIO’s ability to communicate and collaborate across teams is the lynchpin that holds your IT department together. The more digital technology evolves, the more it’s necessary to have people in your organization who tether IT to revenue opportunities and vice versa. 

Change Management

With every new technology or industry-changing platform comes people apprehensive about the change. A great CIO takes that into account and can implement change management resources and processes that ease the transition. 

It doesn’t matter how effective a new tech solution is; without change management, adoption and efficient use are next to impossible to achieve. Along with the straightforward change of learning a new solution, there are plenty of other obstacles that bar organizations from a successful technology change. 

Whether your staff struggle understanding the need for change or some of your employees just want to do it “the way we’ve always done it,” change management is a required skill for CIOs. 

We know that’s asking for a lot from one person. And that’s not to mention the resources you’ll spend on finding and compensating your “unicorn.” Depending on your requirements, your best bet may be to outsource your CIO to a company that has the knowledge and experience to act as your CIO on Demand or vCIO. 

Exact IT does just that! We act as a trusted adviser, fully understanding our clients’ business and utilizing our expertise and resources to ensure technology is aligned with business objectives. Let Exact IT be your unicorn and help ensure that your organization:

  • Invests in technologies that support long-term business objectives
  • Properly plans for potential growth or expansions
  • Implements infrastructure that meets software requirements for critical applications
  • Fully understands technical compliance regulations specific to your business
  • Adequately estimates project roll-out requirements, downtime, and costs

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