Could a CISO become your next CEO?

CIOs have eyes on the top job, but they still have a few things to learn

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Most Australian CIOs hope to become CEO of their company despite recent survey findings suggesting that just almost no current ASX200 CSOs actually have a background in technology.

Fully 87 percent of 160 Australian CIOs and CTOs, who were interviewed for a recent study by recruitment consultancy Robert Half Australia, said they were motivated to become CEO or managing director of their current company.

This, despite just 39 percent of respondents saying that the CIO was the main contender for the role.

The disparity highlights a mindset gap that could have implications for companies’ ability to execute digital-transformation agendas such as the government’s recently announced Digital Transformation Strategy, Robert Half Asia Pacific senior managing director David Jones

“Technology-based skillsets are becoming increasingly influential in developing future business strategies,” Jones said. “Today, strategic business decisions are more often than not driven by technology and innovation.”

“Business leaders who want to climb the corporate ladder increasingly understand the importance digitisation has in shaping the future direction of the organisation, highlighting the need for executives to embrace, understand and develop technological acumen.”

Despite the importance of this trend, the company’s CEO Tracker revealed that just 8 percent of the current ASX200 companies have technology backgrounds, while 26 percent had previously been CEOs elsewhere and 47 percent have backgrounds in finance.

The latter figure had decreased from 50 percent in 2017, suggesting that companies were slowly embracing senior executives with a broader set of skills.

Executives must consider cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is one of the increasingly necessary skills, with the report noting that digital transformation “demands a collective approach where all senior executives... need to work together to drive transformation.”

“Not every leader needs to be a Security Architect or a Web Designer.... [But] while a company’s CIO is head of the technology department, ultimately, the CEO must be able to see and assess how digitisation fits into the company’s strategy, while also recognising potential threats – especially for current day issues such as cybersecurity.”

Increasing the profile of cybersecurity at the executive level remains a key goal of many technology leaders, and having a technology-savvy CEO would likely help in making that happen.

But with the cybersecurity skills gap still wide and difficult to bridge, ESET senior research fellow Nick FitzGerald said a “young and developing” cybersecurity profession is still failing to attract enough people and is still, as a field of employment, “still finding its feet”.

“Ideally, well-trained professionals would enter the workforce ready to combat threats,” he said. “However cybercriminals are constantly evolving and, as new devices or technologies enter the market, they introduce new threats.”

“It’s these constant developments in cybercrime, technology, and workloads that increase the skills gap, rather than a lack of training or a lack of people.... The industry simply can’t rely on a sudden decline in cybercriminal activity, or a huge breakthrough in security technology.”

The realities of the cybersecurity skills gap may be a sobering note for CISOs with ambitions to rise through the ranks; there were few indications that they would have the breadth of experience of knowledge necessary to climb high without first moving into the broader role of CIO.

There may yet be hope for executives with the right combination of skills: fully 60 percent of current ASX200 CEOs had been promoted internally.

Yet even CIOs weren’t necessarily the go-to choice, with information executives admitting they still had a few things to learn before being ready for the top job.

Some 53 percent of those surveyed said they need to increase their expertise in how departments drive growth and sales, with 48 percent saying they needed to identify a better understanding of non-IT business functions. And 43 percent admitted they needed to improve their business and commercial acumen.

“Many CIOs have the capacity to position themselves as game-changers within their organisation,” Jones said, “as the role of technology has increased dramatically in the wider business context.”

“Successful CIOs who are aiming for the top job combine their technical know-how with business knowledge. They understand the need to build partnerships across the organisation, not just for their future career success, but also to help generate business value from key digital initiatives.”

Tags CISOCEOdata transformation

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