5 recommendations for aspiring CIOs

It takes more than certifications and hard work to transition from a company’s IT trenches to the exalted C-suite. Here are five steps that will get you where you want to be.

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“If you can get things done, you’ll be seen as part of the business,”

—Eric Johnson, CIO at Informatica

CIOs contribute more than just technology expertise. They guide business strategy, shape corporate goals, and foster vendor relations. Just ask Eric Johnson, Informatica’s CIO. The winner of several prestigious industry awards, Johnson oversees the strategic direction of Informatica’s global information systems and technology infrastructure. Here he offers five key strategies to help navigate the way to the role of CIO.

  1. Think like a valued business partner
    IT is about more than server rooms and security patches. “IT professionals need to start thinking like business people because they are business people,” says Johnson. “They run a function that has a budget and employees just like the finance department and human resources. As an IT professional, you need to ensure that you understand your company’s business strategies and how you contribute to them.” 
    To achieve this shift in mindset, Johnson recommends learning the metrics being used to measure a company’s performance. This will enable IT to better align its activities with corporate goals and report IT performance and progress aligned to the business goals. It’s also important that aspiring CIOs learn how to build relationships with internal peers and external vendors—a valuable skill that can help save a company money and raise an IT professional’s profile.
  2. Foster a strong network
    It is easy for an IT professional to wind up knee-deep in help desk requests and maintenance tasks. But aspiring CIOs need to look beyond their daily to-do lists to find out which obstacles business line leaders are grappling with and how IT can help. 
    “The speed of technology now is incredibly fast,” says Johnson. “Without a network of peers to talk to or understand what challenges they face, it becomes incredibly difficult to stay up on trends and technologies across the board. A CIO has to be well-versed in what these trends are and who the key players are across a fairly broad range of functions.”
  3. Be proactive
    IT professionals have more power at their fingertips than they often realize. “You really need to understand what technologies are out there. Then apply them to your company’s business challenges and proactively bring them to people’s attention,” advises Johnson. Aspiring CIOs that serve as business problem-solvers can instantly add value and earn accolades from business line leaders.
  4. Deliver, deliver, deliver
    It’s not enough to understand the inner workings of an ERP system. You need to be able to get highly robust and complex solutions up and running on time and on budget. After all, says Johnson, “It’s hard to build credibility as a valuable part of the business if you can’t deliver. People are depending on you to deliver a solution or service to help them move the business forward. If you can get things done, you’ll be seen as a valuable part of the business.”
  5. Be seen and heard
    You won’t get discovered as the next all-star CIO if you’re hiding in the server room. Sign up to be the speaker at an industry event, volunteer to be a mentor, or hold discussions at conferences. These are all ways to “provide guidance, share their vision, and be seen as someone who is a leader,” says Johnson.

For actionable advice on becoming a CIO, check out Ernst & Young’s “Toolkit for the aspiring CIO.”

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