The days of the CIO being the most senior technologist in their organisation with time served working their way up through the IT department are numbered. In fact, having a technical background or at least one that is clearly evident in how you speak, behave or approach issues is likely to be a disadvantage in the future.
The way organisations are using technology has changed. Disruptive technologies such as cloud, social and mobile have made technology far more accessible to non-technical functions. The supposed challengers to the CIO role, be it the CMO, CDO or even the CFO, are demonstrating that you do not need to be technical to successfully apply technology to enable business capabilities.
When CEOs and other C-level executives are looking for candidates to drive technology-enabled business transformation, they do not want someone who is steeped in servers, switches, coding and interfaces; they want someone who understands the business, its markets and customers and who can apply technology to create competitive advantage. This is why CIOs who have spent most or all of their careers in IT are being overlooked for transformational roles and find it hard to progress beyond the CIO role; their technical background is a weakness; not a strength.
Forbes recently ran a series of articles on the CIO-plus role, about CIOs that have taken on other duties in addition to running IT, and are currently running a follow-up series titled Beyond CIO featuring CIOs that have moved up to more senior roles. What most, if not all, of the CIOs and ex-CIOs featured in the Forbes articles had in common was time spent outside of IT whilst a number of them had actually started their careers in non-technology roles and moved into IT as a senior manager.
The fact that Forbes are featuring CIOs that have taken on additional duties or who have moved up to more senior roles demonstrates that it is still fairly unusual for this to happen. And this will continue to be the case while most CIO roles are filled by people with a mainly technical background and little experience outside IT.