What’s the next step on the career path for CIOs? asks Jo Bennett, associate producer at Gartner.

Many CIOs are content to stay in IT leadership. Others, looking to build on their influence and advance their careers, aspire to the office of the Chief Operating Officer (COO).

800px-The_ladder_of_life_is_full_of_splinters“While the proportion of companies with a COO role is relatively low and declining,” said Colleen M. Young, managing vice president at Gartner, “for the ambitious, credible CIO, the attainability of the position (where it exists) is improving.”


CIOs are right for the COO office

Two words — digital business — capture the opportunity for enterprises that either hire or promote an individual with CIO experience to lead the COO function. To compete in today’s economy, businesses of all sizes are scrambling to digitize their legacy business models and leverage data to improve operations and customer experiences.

Ambitious, forward-thinking COOs have experience leading such initiatives, both operationally and strategically. In the U.S., noted Ms. Young, one study showed that 84% of COOs were promoted internally. In the majority of cases, CIOs were advanced to the COO role, and most retained IT responsibilities.

An example of an organization that has a joint COO/CIO role is the London Stock Exchange, where the role was created as part of an initiative to modernize the Exchange’s core trading platform.


What makes a successful COO?

To be considered a viable candidate for success in the COO role, CIOs need to demonstrate some specific skills and capabilities:
•Adaptive leadership within and outside the enterprise: The most influential COOs focus on building relationships and trust, and helping others — particularly the CEO — be successful. They serve as bridges across different functions to help drive consensus, and they’re adept at adapting their interpersonal style to audiences and situations.
•The ability to turn ideas into viable plans: As much about practical application of vision as gaining buy-in for strategies and innovation, this requires an understanding of the business model, economics and key performance indicators (KPIs) and being adept at predictive modeling and analytics (among other things).
•Operational and strategic execution skills: COOs are responsible for business outcomes. Key to delivering successfully on those outcomes is the ability to manage both performance and change. This also involves managing resources and talent, and having a solid understanding of supply chains, value networks and internal processes.

Think of the journey toward becoming a COO as a three-stage continuum:
1.IT leadership: Running the business of IT
2.ITO360: Expanding operational excellence outside of IT
3.COO: Leading operational strategy and efficiency


Your action plan

Your first step in assessing whether to take proactive steps toward becoming a COO, according to Ms. Young, is to determine if the role is practical at your current company. For example, in the services, energy and retail industries, COOs are more common than in the healthcare, financial services and industrial sectors.

Next, you will next need to demonstrate your operational effectiveness beyond the IT organization. You might consider adding logistics, procurement and other corporate functions to your responsibilities.

Finally, identify ways to make the CEO personally successful. Being creative and proactive will demonstrate that you possess some of the necessary DNA for the job.

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