Public sector IT professionals must aspire to the CIO role or recognise their careers may be limited, according to a report from public sector organisation the Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm).
"Ambitious IT professionals must set their sights on becoming their organisation's CIO (chief information officer) and not restrict themselves to chief technical officer (CTO) roles, which are being diminished by the de-skilling of technology," the report says.
The prediction is set out in the "What's in a name? The practicalities of being a public sector CIO" report.
Based on a survey of 76 public sector organisations, and detailed interviews with ten CIOs in local and central government and the private sector, the report answers the questions "What is it that CIOs do, and how does their role, personal skills and attributes differ from those of head of ICT or CTOs?".
The report defines CIOs as "digitally literate leaders who understand fully the operational environment in which their organisation works, and can build and interpret strategy at both business and technical levels".
They have the skills and attributes to lead their organisations to transform and continuously improve services, particularly by making best use of technology, the report says.
CTOs, by contrast, manage the technical infrastructure and software to deliver an economical, efficient and effective ICT service within their organisation, to partner organisations and the community.
The report says individuals called "head of ICT" may operate as CIOs or CTOs, depending upon the demands their employing organisation makes of them, their own skills and behaviours, and the presence or not of others in the organisation with appropriate skill sets.
Report author Chris Head says there are challenges for people most comfortable in a technical environment who want to take on the CIO role.
He said: "The role is primarily about being an agent of business change. It means having a vision of the future and the ability to translate this into both business and ICT strategies.
"It means a high level of engagement with the business and the ability to discuss delivery without talking 'technical'. This can be difficult for people immersed in the technical infrastructure, not least because of the perceptions others have of them."