There’s little debate that the CIO’s role has morphed from head of the tech order-takers to strategic business leader in most organizations. As part of digital transformation work, CIOs are refashioning business processes, creating new lines of revenue, and ensuring better communication with customers. That begs the question: Does the CIO even need a tech degree anymore?
Many IT leaders say the answer is no – with some important caveats. CIOs don’t need to have an engineering or technology-related diploma, says Larry Bonfante, veteran CIO and founder of executive coaching and consulting practice CIO Bench Coach, but they do need an understanding of what’s possible and how to leverage technology.
Many IT leaders and recruiters believe there are significant benefits to having a broader background than simply technology. “Modern CIOs are much more the archers than the arrows,” says Joe Olson, VP at retained executive search firm ON Partners. “They are expected to have solid financial discipline paired with commercial strategy in order to understand both the how and the why.”
Organizations that fail to consider CIO candidates without tech degrees can miss out on serious C-suite talent specifically suited to their sector, recruiters say. “A CIO should be judged by his or her career trajectory and ability to influence and drive change throughout an organization,” says Olson of ON Partners. For a professional services firm, that could be someone with a liberal arts degree and a background in sales.
In pharma or life sciences, for example, it may be beneficial to recruit a transitioned scientist. “At the end of the day, the role of the CIO is to understand the business levers and identify technology solutions that enable growth and innovation,” Olson says. “The organizations that are limited to a decision made decades ago are creating an unnecessary hurdle for themselves in the war for talent.”