Commentary: How to become the ‘transcendent’ CIO

The state and local government CIO role has dramatically shifted over the past few years. However, will this transformation continue as we approach 2020?

The CIO role in our state and local governments has been changing at a rapid clip.

Increasingly, governments want technology officers to deliver services that make it easier for agencies to accomplish their goals and for citizens to interact with their lawmakers. The same shift is happening in the private sector as well.

But to be effective in this period of change, a CIO must position him or herself as a leader with vision and influence, what I call a “Transcendent CIO.”

These CIOs must focus wholeheartedly on developing business solutions, regardless of whether technology is involved. Challenging the status quo, asking the right questions, building relationships and influencing the direction of the organization are the unspoken mandates of the Transcendent CIO. The ability to see the successful outcome with unwavering determination before ever reaching the end is, what I call, a visionary leader.


Not all state and local CIOs are taking this approach, but it’s critical: Many organizations today are in desperate need of critical, analytical and strategic thinking among executive leadership. They need someone to ask the uncomfortable “why?” questions — like, why do we collect this information? why have we not considered removing parts of this operation procedure? —  a task for which professionals with engineering and science backgrounds are well suited.

Passion and conviction are what fuels the visionary’s vehicle to make a real difference. The Transcendent CIO is needed today but most certainly will become the norm in most any organization.

Using the Four P’s

So, how can a technology executive become a Transcendent CIO? Here are four quick tips that will not only keep CIOs afloat but also can serve as the rudder on the ship:

Position yourself as a trusted source of information in many things. Being known as the technology guru is great — but when executive leadership begins to seek your advice on matters not involving technology, you have reached the next level.


Partner with your colleagues to find ways to solve real problems and challenges they face every day. Virtualizing all your servers and keeping the lights on is admirable. But ask yourself: Do your daily actions reveal you to be a true partner? Do you place yourself in the trenches so you feel what they feel? This is what ultimately creates raving fans.

Proactively seek what’s next while keeping the current objectives on track. Foresight is a wonderful gift and most certainly does not come naturally to most. But being proactive in positioning your organization for the next big thing won’t amount to much while the major project you’re leading falls flat on its face. Whatever you begin, commit to success or don’t do it at all.

Persevere no matter the odds in any initiative that you pursue. People respect conviction. It’s contagious and apparent to all those around you. Conviction is what leads a charge that others quickly will follow. Of course be diplomatic, obtain buy-in and always “work the room.” But perseverance is sometimes the final ingredient of success.

David Whicker is the chief information officer in Rockingham County, North Carolina.

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