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What is a CIO? Chief Information Officer Responsibilities, Qualifications & More

Mike Marks August 20, 2020

A Chief Information Officer or “CIO” brings business goals to life through the use of information technology, overseeing the strategic development of such to ensure it makes the most of company resources.

As a relatively recent addition to the executive team compared to legacy C-suite roles like the CEO and CFO, a CIO’s role and responsibilities can change over time and across organizations. Read on to learn more about CIOs and the key competencies they bring to the table for growing companies.

What Does a Chief Information Officer Do?

Chief Information Officers perform many vital tasks, all of which center on the careful cultivation of business-oriented technological development.

A CIO stands at the juncture between business needs and information technology development.

The role of a CIO is to manage IT talent and policies so that they align closely with business goals at all times. When markets rise, CIOs are expected to strategically define technological growth trajectories and maximize value. As markets stagnate or dip, companies depend on their CIOs to assist in mitigating losses by generating greater throughput and productivity with less spend.

CIO Responsibilities

Chief Information Officers wear several different hats in any organization, but their responsibilities differ by company. Although the title implies an executive position, it can sometimes be used to instead refer to the top manager for a business’s IT division. Here’s a look at the primary responsibilities CIOs are typically tasked with.

Planning IT Development

Planning development of IT infrastructure and usage within a given organization is every CIO’s core competency. To do this, both the resources within the IT division as well as those of the entire company must be carefully considered and integrated.

Overseeing IT Development

CIOs are usually in charge of direction of IT development at a high level. This high-level oversight often means convening with project managers and individual team leaders to document the overall progress of IT development efforts relative to important milestones and organizational objectives.

Managing IT Talent

CIOs are expected to lead IT teams directly, providing calculated guidance to keep goalposts aligned between tech talent and the company at large.

Approving IT Development Plans

In addition to overseeing development, CIOs are typically also tasked with ensuring all IT development plans currently underway align fully with company goals. This responsibility necessarily involves signing off on specific development plans as they are proposed.

Technology Budgeting

Managing costs associated with the IT division usually comes up as a key component of the Chief Information Officer’s overall workload. CIOs are the members of the executive class closest to IT personnel who are capable of discerning genuine requirements from potential over-expenditures in this part of the organization with relative ease.

Assessing IT Risk (IRM)

Information Risk Management is a core competency among CIOs and for good reason – agile development decisions can only be made to work in favor of an organization that factors in potential risks and pitfalls along the way. CIOs link risk profiles to company objectives and determine appropriate paths forward with these in mind.

CIO Background & Experience

CIOs are expected to possess an IT background with ample technological knowledge and expertise to complement a variety of projects as needed. However, it is a CIO’s business and management experience that most often takes precedence over explicit technological knowledge.

Business Experience

CIOs function as enabling agents for their organization’s expansion and development efforts. They are expected to support the various objectives of other organizational executives with well-reasoned, technologically backed strategy and guidance.

Other business executives and leaders depend on the Chief Information Officer to clearly explain and leverage IT infrastructure in ways that best benefit the business’s continued improvement.

IT Management Experience

Regardless of who the CIO is expected to report to in an organization, their ability to lead the IT division towards established business goals is tantamount. Having managerial experience, especially among technical staff, plays a major role in developing a CIO’s ability to steer IT efforts in a profitable direction while keeping IT staff motivated and engaged.

CIO Education

Studies that CIOs focus on center on IT domains and business management; however, given the rapidly changing definition of the role, education requirements are not entirely set in stone.

As a CIO’s intended roles within a company are contingent on existing executive expectations and needs, the position lacks a clear career path. For now, it is assumed that graduate degrees are expected of individuals seeking CIO roles.

Common Degrees Held by CIOs

The following degrees are among the most commonly held by CIOs:

  • Computer Science
  • Software Engineering
  • Information Systems
  • Business Administration
  • Education

Other CIO Qualifications

A number of soft skills are integral to a CIO’s role within an organization. Key competencies range from effective communication to strategic thinking and negotiation. In addition to technical proficiency, leadership and cooperation are crucial soft skills for successful CIOs.


A company’s Chief Information Officer is a leader by necessity. Skills in this area make it possible for CIOs to coordinate the efforts of diverse teams and contributors without losing sight of relevant objectives or bringing about interpersonal complications along the way.


Often, the CIO must work closely with other members of the executive team in addition to their subordinates within the IT division. A common pairing of the essential functions handled by the COO with those best left to the CIO enables organizations to take action with full internal alignment.

A Chief Information Officer is an invaluable asset to any expanding company. They take on many multifaceted responsibilities with the overall goal of overseeing IT development and investments to ensure business continuity while providing a user experience that supports productivity and seamless collaboration.

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