CIO Studies Show What it Takes to Become a Successful CIO

By December 14, 2018 March 10th, 2021 No Comments

Thriving chief information officers (CIOs) in higher education like to know what’s happening around campus. Knowledge is power to them as they guide decision-making and oversee technology. For Dr. Wayne A. Brown, this passion for helping CIOs become successful has been at the heart of his studies, and career, for the past 20 years.

Dr. Brown is a longtime chief information officer in higher education, industry and the U.S. Air Force who has devoted his professional and academic studies to CIO attributes and effectiveness in higher education. In the current phase of his career, he is the founder of the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officer Studies, Inc. (CHECS). With a mission to contribute to the education and the development of the chief information officer in higher education, CHECS prepares and creates surveys and reports that have the ability to positively impact the CIO position at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

CHECS: A Passion for Understanding the CIO Role in Higher Education
In the early 2000s, Dr. Brown began researching higher education CIO effectiveness for his Ph.D. dissertation. He started sending out surveys in 2003 and has sent one out every year since. At that time, his goal was to build a longitudinal study, but as he changed jobs and moved around the company, confusion was created as the study came from different addresses.

“I founded CHECS almost 10 years ago to really give the research that I had been doing at home,” Dr. Brown said. “I wanted people to associate it with an organization versus some guy sending them another survey.”

Prior to CHECS, Dr. Brown funded the survey out of his own pocket, including printing and mailing out the surveys. After several years, it became expensive but Dr. Brown continued to do it because he found value in the information. When CHECS was founded, the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization gave Dr. Brown the ability to raise money to support the project. He secured sponsorships from vendors and then copies of the reports were sold. In addition to the CIO study, CHECS began extending subscriptions to institutions three years ago.

These offerings help sustain CHECS and any funds that come in above the year’s budget is donated to academic endowed scholarships at four different institutions. Through 2018, there has been $100,000 given to these IT-focused scholarships.

“Some of the scholarships were very specifically focused towards women and minorities because this is an area where there has been a real lack of diversity, especially in higher education CIOs and the people in the next layer down from CIOs,” Dr. Brown said.

The Evolution of the CIO Study
CHECS sends out several studies every year. The CIO study is sent to CIOs in higher education, and once completed, it provides information about their attributes, education, experience, and effectiveness. The data learned is beneficial to seasoned technology leaders and those who aspire to become CIOs. The study also benefits those who are looking to hire a CIO in the future.

The research from this particular study is unique compared to other CIO studies available in that it is a two-part survey, involving the CIO as well as other members of the institution’s management team (IMT).

“I survey CIOs and other members of the cabinet, asking them a lot of the same questions. Ten years ago, I started surveying the people in the next layer down from the CIO,” Dr. Brown said. “I am able to compare these results, which provides valuable information for CIOs and those interested in becoming a CIO.”

One reason Dr. Brown started surveying executive directors, deputy CIOs and AVPs is because many CIOs are at retirement age. Dr. Brown was worried about what the pipeline would be like for CIOs and if those interested in the positions would have the right preparation or understanding.

Most recently, he began sending the surveys to chief academic technology officers, someone who runs the academic side of the IT department. CIOs are also asked questions about the chief academic technology officers (CATOs). He asks a lot of the same questions and results are compared. The different perspectives are placed in the report and provide valuable data.

“This is the longest running work of its kind, and it’s the only work of its kind that’s conducted by a practitioner. Other organizations might do CIO work every three years but it’s typically done by someone who is a research person,” Dr. Brown said. “I have a Ph.D., so I know how to do research, but I’ve also served as a CIO and understand who the CIOs, technology leaders and security officers are. I think it gives a very different perspective than somebody who is just doing it as a research project.”

Another survey CHECS sends out is the Technology Leadership (TL) study, which invites participation from those in the next organizational layer down from the CIO. The TL study examines the demographics of the TL, where they have worked, and the activities they are undertaking to prepare themselves to become CIOs. The TL study also includes opinions from the CIOs and IMTs on the activities and attributes they believe are important for a higher education CIO.

The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) study examines the demographics of the higher education CISO, the career route they have taken to their role, and the activities and attributes needed for a CISO according to the CISO and the CIO. The CIO study has been completed since 2003, and the TL study has been conducted since 2009. The CISO study was begun in 2014.

2003-2018: 15 Years of CIO Data
Dr. Brown has reports dating back to 2003. During that time, he has seen a wide range of changes and yet, he noted that many things haven’t changed. For instance, the percentage of CIOs who report to the president has remained the same.

“It’s been in the low 30 percent range since 2003, and you think about 2003 and how many technology changes have occurred in that time. Blu-ray was invented in 2003,” he exclaimed. “Also, in 2003, the massive ERP implementations were going on, with lots of hardware and lots of software and lots of failures. Cloud wasn’t even thought of and the learning management systems were just coming into use.”

There have been massive changes in technology but still, Dr. Brown notes that some of the very important results about the CIO go unchanged – like reporting to the president, serving on the cabinet, racial makeup, and gender makeup. These changes have been minute over the past 15 years.

The Skills Needed to Become a Successful CIO
Because of the aging CIO generation, there are a number of technology leaders excited about future job endeavors. Dr. Brown uses his reports to help interested parties understand how to prepare for the job or to determine if the role is right for them. Results of the study are especially helpful because there are few training opportunities available that show, and help prepare, a person how to become a CIO.

“When I ask CIOs what’s the best way to get ready, they give three answers. Technology leaders, the people in the next layer down, all give these same answers. The three responses include: (1) mentoring; (2) on the-job training; and (3) serving on institution-wide committees,” Dr. Brown said.

Other skills Dr. Brown found important when he was a CIO – and what is also presented via the data – is having leadership capabilities, communication skills, higher education knowledge, business knowledge and a foundation of relationship building. Huge value has also been placed on prospective CIOs with strong interpersonal skills.

He says those interested in a CIO position should, if feasible, try out the position first – either when the current CIO is out of the office, such as when they’re on vacation or at a conference. Taking the position for a test run provides real life job experience and gives someone the knowledge to see if it’s a suitable position.

“I ask technology leaders why they want to be a CIO and they all give interesting answers,” Dr. Brown said. “The No. 1 answer is they want to make a difference. Some also feel like it’s the next logical step in their career, but if that’s your answer, you need to have more passion than that to be successful in the position.”

Dr. Brown said being a successful CIO requires a lot of energy and interpersonal skills. It isn’t necessarily the best position for someone who is an introvert, especially a person who isn’t willing to work on extrovert skills.

“It’s doable if you are an introvert, but you have to be a communicator and a leader,” he said. “You will have to be able to communicate at all different levels from students to board members. You will also need to be able to do the translation of technology through all those different layers, so I think it takes more of a passion vs. going through the motions because the role is simply the next step in one’s career.”

Having all of those skills and having a passion for making a difference is what Dr. Brown says makes the best CIO.

“I think it’s the best job on campus. Members of my advisory board have said that too,” he said. “Partly because you have such a huge impact on the institution.”

Another area the reports are helpful for are those looking to hire a new CIO or wanting to transform how the position works at their place of higher education. The goal is to make it a strategic partnership between the president and cabinet.

The president of the college or university needs to be able to trust the CIO with secure technology. The president doesn’t have to be strong in those areas, just like they aren’t necessarily as strong in finance as their CFO, but when there are quality people in different positions of the cabinet, it impacts higher education in a positive manner.

Cabinet members say a CIO needs skills that help them be a leader and strong communicator, but they also need to understand higher education technology and have the ability to be collaborative and collegial.

“They should look for someone with executive skills, versus looking for somebody who has a Cisco certification,” Dr. Brown said. “I think if you take the ideal CIO and put them into an institution and they’ve got all those skills and they’ve got the right experiences, and they can communicate and they are collegial and they understand higher education, I think that person should be on the cabinet and should report to the president if you’re going to get the best use out of technology. I believe where we go astray is when the wrong person shows up and they don’t have those skills, and now they’re on the cabinet, they’re reporting to the president, and rather than adding value, they give the president yet another task to tackle.”

Once a person has been hired as CIO, Dr. Brown wants to provide more training opportunities for them to continue their success in the position.

“Getting the job is the easy part,” he said. “I think keeping it and being successful at it is much more difficult.”

The desire for new CIOs to succeed is why Dr. Brown has been sharing his passion throughout the years via the various CHECS study reports. Flash forward 15 years and CHECS is making an impressive impact throughout higher education as they focus on helping CIOs develop into successful leaders.

Curious to learn more about the role of the CIO from CHECS? Email to request the latest annual CHECS research report – an exclusive benefit for Edge members!