Cornerstone Advisors Technology Solutions Managing Director John Venzon (left) and Director Terrie Cloud

The new CIO skill set

Three hats today’s chief information officers must wear.

December 12, 2022

These days, financial institutions have to look like tech companies that offer financial services. Innovative institutions are deploying Banking as a Service (BaaS) offerings, and digital transformation is the dominant strategic priority. In the midst of this rapid-fire disruption, chief information officers (CIOs) are expected to be nimble, forward-thinking leaders who foster innovation.

Next-generation CIOs must press into an intentional role as business leaders. It won’t be enough to have a skilled, agile information technology (IT) team—CIOs must be the catalyst that drives the creation of a skilled and agile enterprise.

Here are three hats the new CIO will need to confidently wear to be positioned for success—today and into the future.

1. Innovation leader

The CIO must be a technology strategist who can align the financial institution’s technology plan with its strategic plan, and then gain buy-in from the institution’s leadership team. This starts with a properly chartered technology steering committee that is chaired by the CIO and includes representation from the executive team, lines of business, and board members.

To be an innovation leader, CIOs must become energetic “scouts” for the organization, seeking out new state-of-the-art solutions, recruiting and aligning top talent, and crafting smart partnerships with fintechs and major technology vendors. Importantly, the CIO must have effective negotiating, relationship-building, and “storytelling” skills to craft a technology vision that wins the support of the board and executive team.

2. Domain expert

The CIO must be highly intelligent and be able to learn quickly across both the technology and business domains.

While next-gen CIOs cannot possibly be experts across all areas of technology, they will need strong domain knowledge of enabling technologies and industry vendors and solutions to manage both the alignment and execution of the IT plan. This CIO will understand how to bring leaders together across enterprise architecture, infrastructure, applications, data, security, and program management to move quickly while ensuring that the institution’s technology environment is enhanced.

3. Enterprise resource manager

The CIO will always live in a world of limited resources coupled with insatiable demands for those resources, and he or she will need the discipline to say “yes” to some things and “no” to many others. The role requires tough conversations with business areas concerning the business case for new initiatives and the resource commitment to successful execution.

Next-gen CIOs cannot fulfill this leadership role alone. They need to have skilled resources that can manage all of the institution’s technologies, including a chief technology officer (CTO) who owns and manages the infrastructure, networks, and lines of business applications. In addition to a qualified CTO, the CIO must have resources that understand and can manage day-to-day operations, including data governance, vendor management, security, risk management, and tactical technology issues.

Managing the chaos

While there is no hope for today’s CIO to have a predictable and orderly (or even sane) management role, these leaders have to transform their role effectively in order to help transform their institutions. By effectively balancing the roles of innovation leader, domain expert, and enterprise resource manager, the next-gen CIO has a better shot at managing the chaos of strategic and technological transformation.

John Venzon is managing director and Terrie Cloud is a director in the Technology Solutions business at Cornerstone Advisors, a management and technology consulting firm.