Chief Information Officers


Exploring this Job

The best way to explore this field while you are still in high school is by joining computer clubs at school and community centers and learning all you can about the Internet, networks, and computer security. You might also get a part-time job that includes computer work. This can help you get exposure to computer systems and how they are used in a business.

To get management experience, start with your own interests. There are managerial duties associated with almost every organized activity, from the drama club or theatrical productions to sports or school publications.

The Job

It's the job of the chief information officer (CIO) to find a way to straddle the wall between business and technology. Although they're up to date on cutting-edge information technology, today's CIOs must know their way around the company's business as well as any other high-level manager. According to a member survey by the Society for Information Management, CIOs spent 77 percent of their time on non-technical issues such as operations, relationship management with business units and vendors, and strategy. This emphasis on business means CIOs attend strategy sessions and management meetings, in addition to meeting with computer professionals and other members of the technical staff. Using their combined business and technical know-how, CIOs usually oversee the selection and implementation of their company's information systems—from e-mail programs, to systems that collect massive amounts of data from customers, to Information Technology (IT) security, to cloud computing applications, to corporation-wide intranets.

Making these decisions requires enough technical savvy to choose appropriate technology systems from an array of complex options. Decisions like these, though, also require a sophisticated sense of how information in a company circulates and how that information relates to business practices. Does the company's customer database need to connect to the Internet? What security issues are created if that connection is established? Who needs to be able to access the most sensitive information, and who needs to be locked out? Answering these sorts of questions can take all of a CIO's mix of executive knowledge and technical expertise.

CIOs also need a good understanding of the financial situation of their employer when making IT decisions. For example, a CIO of a city library system must select systems for his or her library staff that fit their needs and the library's often-limited budget. At the same time, he or she must consider what the library may need five and even 10 years down the road, since a lack of vision now can mean more money and time spent later. After systems have been selected, the CIO must establish and oversee vendor relationships (contractual agreements between the library and companies that supply technical equipment). Evaluating potential vendor relationships for financial and technological advantages takes up a large part of the CIO's working hours.