Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Gartner drawing on analyst insights about CIOs with experience outside the technical realm.
From 2015 to 2018, the percentage of CIOs coming from non-IT backgrounds more than tripled. Over a quarter of CIOs starting the job today are doing so without traditional IT experience.
With no formal IT education on which to draw, these leaders must learn certain technical fundamentals to ensure success. However, aspects of a non-traditional background create a unique advantage these CIOs can bring to their team and role.
CIOs without a technical background must close the knowledge gap in strategic areas where technology can enable business transformation, while simultaneously relying on their business expertise to bridge the gap between the C-suite and IT organization.
Here are three ways a CIO from a non-IT background can lean on their strengths and close their knowledge gaps to succeed in the role:
1. Learn your team's working life and assess the effectiveness of the IT operation
In their first weeks at a new company, CIOs must start building authority among their team members by striving to understand the context of IT within the business as a whole.
Spend time with direct reports and other team members to understand the current IT operating model. These conversations will help new CIOs understand how well IT is contributing to the business strategy.
Identify any gaps between the role that IT currently plays and the overall needs of the organization. These gaps may exist in service delivery, but may also be found in the talent, motivation and workload of the team.
After assessing the effectiveness of the IT operation, CIOs can begin addressing necessary changes.
This could include adding staff resources, investing in new systems or shelving projects that don't offer a strong business benefit.
Starting small, with the least complex initiatives, will help the CIO build trust among the IT department and pave the way for more transformational efforts.
2. Leverage your business experience
In today's technology-driven economy, the CIO is in a position to deliver significant business value.
However, CIOs who come up through the IT ranks are often perceived to be technologists by the C-suite and must earn the right to be heard in strategy discussions.
Non-technical CIOs have an advantage here. Being able to articulate IT strategy in terms other C-suite executives can understand is a considerable advantage for any CIO, as it will allow them to ensure the organization has the right technology to fulfill business strategy.
In turn, these CIOs can leverage their knowledge to increase the business acumen of their own leadership team.
Help other IT leaders develop the business knowledge that they need in order to best serve the organization — for example, financial acumen, management tactics or the flow of key operations.
Encourage them to do the same with their direct reports: CIOs can also help integrate their team into the rest of the organization by bringing team members to meetings where strategic business topics that have IT implications are being discussed.
One caution for non-technical CIOs is to avoid allowing this advantage to develop into overconfidence. While you may have been hired due to business or managerial knowledge, there are many aspects of the job that you are not familiar with.
Be humble, open to learning and willing to change opinions about the performance of IT teams.
3. Acquire a helicopter view of your enterprise IT architecture and a grounded view of the game-changer technologies
While in-depth technical knowledge is not a requirement for a CIO, knowing the fundamentals of the enterprise IT architecture will allow for more thoughtful decision-making.
It will also help to increase the CIO's technical authority among the IT team and the rest of the C-suite.
At a more granular level, looking at IT spending can help CIOs identify the game-changer technologies within their enterprise that are most important to learn about.
Data and analytics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and cloud services are among the top IT spending growth areas for today's enterprise. They're strategic technologies for the CIO to understand as a basic level.
Pick a few key technologies specific to your enterprise to study up on in more depth. This is another area where CIOs can lean on their teams and technical peers.
Share knowledge with direct reports and reach out to partners or channels for resources related to these key technologies — seminars, lunch-and-learns, vendor resources and trainings.
CIOs can also accelerate development by establishing a network of IT leaders in their industry through conference attendance, professional organizations or other connections. Budget time to speak with connections on a regular basis to share ideas and learn from them.
By leaning on their strengths and strategically acquiring technical knowledge, CIOs coming from non-traditional backgrounds can be poised for success from the first days of their new role.
By approaching the job with the right mindset, these CIOs can be in a unique position to support consistent growth in both the IT organization and the business as a whole.
Daniel Sanchez Reina is a research director for Gartner's Leadership, Culture and People Dynamics team in the CIO Research Group.