Your Association Must Have CIO-Level Skills to Achieve Digital Transformation

With the speed of change in the technology world, what we think of as traditional IT (network/infrastructure management, for example) is not—nor should it be—a core competency for most organizations. IT has evolved into a utility that’s commonly outsourced. A 21st century association must focus instead on building its digital capacity along with its capacity for CIO-level thinking and strategizing for continued innovation.

Does your IT leader pass the CIO sniff test?

By delegating functional IT competencies like network management to outside experts, your association’s IT leader (CIO or equivalent) is able to exercise their strategic competencies, assuming they have them.

Here’s a CIO sniff test for your IT leader:

  1. Do they contribute to your organization’s strategic plan?
  2. Do they frequently participate in executive management activities?
  3. Do they own and execute the IT departmental budget?
  4. Do they actively bring ideas and plans for new products and services to the table?
  5. Do they proactively provide data for improved executive decision-making?
  6. Do they connect the dots for entangled IT services across your organization?

Now you know whether you have a functional or strategic technology leader on your team.

There’s a technology leadership talent gap in associations.

As the digital landscape rapidly changes the association technology stack, many organizations are seeking more than an operational IT leader whose experience is in the network architecture world. Instead, they’re focused on finding a strategic leader who has a more visionary approach and sees technology as a business solution. 

This fundamental shift has left many in the association space considering alternative approaches, as this new type of CIO is increasingly harder to find among existing association technology personnel.

What CIO-level skills and expertise do associations need?

An IT professional with a traditional, operational mindset might not be the right person to lead your association through a digital transformation. Your IT leader must be a business strategist and a solutions architect. They must have a CIO mindset, even if they don’t have the title.

You need someone on your IT team—a CIO, IT director, or other IT professional—who exhibits these areas of expertise and takes on these responsibilities.

Here’s how an IT leader with a CIO mindset approaches core competencies.

Strategic vision

  • Sees emerging possibilities in your market and in the wider association space from a technology perspective. They’re a visionary thinker. They understand how these developments might influence your organization and your members.
  • Understands your association’s goals, strategies, and operations—and aligns IT with them.
  • Continually deepens their understanding of member needs, challenges, and online behavior.
  • Shifts technology priorities in response to new conditions.

Technology performance

  • The digital landscape requires associations to up their CIO skills and perspective.

    Assesses the state of your association’s technology and identifies what it takes to move your organization to the next level of IT maturity.
  • Focuses on the user experience across your digital ecosystem.
  • Ensures that technology is leveraged to its full potential throughout the organization and systems work together for optimal business operations.
  • Identifies applications and workloads that are better outsourced than hosted on premise.

Change management

  • Understands the dynamics of change management, including the reasons people resist change and tactics that encourage adoption.
  • Has the ability and charisma to lead and motivate the organization.

Data management and analytics

  • Provides staff access to the data they need.
  • Ensures data can be pulled from different sources and displayed in accessible formats.
  • Helps leadership use data to make business decisions.


  • Understands enough about the constantly changing security landscape to know the right questions to ask security experts.
  • Implements recommended security solutions and policies.
  • Educates staff on sound security practices.

Soft skills

  • Has superb communication skills, including translating complex issues, listening with empathy, persuading, coaching, and consulting.
  • Develops and nurtures relationships with internal stakeholders, fellow executives, vendors, and a professional network of peers.

What if our IT team lacks these CIO skills?

The role of an association’s IT department is more complex and demanding than ever before. Expectations are higher. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option.

Is your IT department prepared to take on these new responsibilities? If you’re not sure, engage an outside expert, like DelCor, to help you assess the readiness of your IT department for this CIO-level work.

Bringing your IT staff ‘up to code’ doesn’t have to mean replacing them, although you may decide it’s an opportune time for staffing adjustments. One solution is to supplement their skills with outside expertise, such as an interim CIO. An interim CIO helps your association identify IT needs and develop a technology strategy, budget, and staffing plan. DelCor provides interim CIO services to many associations.

If no one in your IT department is thinking and behaving like a CIO, it’s time to look for a CIO solution to further your mission, vision, and business objectives. Take our 7-question quiz to see if you’re ready to think strategically about IT!

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