How to become a CIO

Unfortunately for IT managers looking to rise up and meet the challenge, access to the C-suite is now fraught with barriers

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How to become a CIO The requirements for an IT job are very different than they were five to 10 years ago
By  Tom Paye Published  June 25, 2015

When it comes to moving up the ranks, even Boustany admits that technical knowledge is much more important. However, she also points out that a solid understanding of the business is required, too. A company will not appoint a new CIO based on technical ability alone, she says — the contenders for that position will be business-savvy and understand how the IT department can help to drive the organisation’s success.

“Successful CIOs in the Middle East not only have a background in IT, they complement this with strong leadership skills, business acumen, and effective management of external and internal stakeholders. They also create an environment of continuous learning that encourages customer-focused innovation and risk taking, as well as continuous, open and honest feedback, extremely appealing to the millennial workforce,” she says.

This means that, to really progress in IT, budding CIOs need to be highly competent in their field, and have the certifications to prove it. On top of that, they need to have the nouse to use those skills in a way that benefits the organisation at which they work. Three-quarters of business executives in the GCC see IT training and competence as a key driver for the success of their businesses, according to research from IT industry association CompTIA.

According to the survey, more than 74% of business in the Middle East, and 84% in the UAE, have formal policies covering the IT certifications required in the company. Despite this, the survey showed that businesses are still concerned about acquiring the right mix of IT skills. According to the results, 79% of employers in the Middle East, and 65% in the UAE, are concerned about skills when hiring IT professionals.

Gartner’s Mahapatra sums the issue up: “IT managers aspiring to be CIOs should be techno-commercial or techno-management people. They should understand the larger financial and management principles and have a good understanding of overall IT operations, understand the business, the customer requirements, the services offered by IT, IT costing, and the impact of IT on other business element,” he says.

“All this knowledge will help them position for a CIO role. The CIO role is not very technical but is techno-commercial, where a lot of financial and vendor management skills are also required along with having a sound understanding of the business. Other soft skills like negotiations, and people management skills of larger teams are also required.”

Happily, most medium-to-large companies in the Middle East do at least provide some help when it comes to acquiring new technical skills. Of course, some extra effort is required of the employee, who may need to take time out to sit exams or complete academic work, but employers tend to prefer upskilling existing employees to looking outside for qualified talent, which may or may not appear.

“It all ultimately depends on the corporate policies, but most companies are supportive about their employees bettering their skillset. In-house training and development sessions provided by companies is also for the same benefit,” explains Amanulla Khan, director for the Middle East and Africa at Belkin International.

“It is essential to invest in your employees as they are ultimately assets to your company. It helps employees understand the commitment invested in them by the employers. And it is a win-win situation to watch your team grow and gain new skills.”

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