Leadership Series: The Evolving Role of the CIO

The role of the CIO is evolving at a rapid pace, a pace hastened by the dominance of data and next-generation technology. There is a need for businesses to have someone who can do more than just implement technology – someone who can help guide the strategic choices of a company’s future with an eye toward new innovations. In a survey of CEOs, 80 percent believe innovation will increase efficiencies and provide a competitive edge. Close to 70 percent of CEOs are investing in IT to reduce costs and become more efficient, while 54 percent are also funneling funds toward growth initiatives.

Implementing technology has been the cornerstone of the CIO role, but the evolution of this role requires more than just execution. To be successful, the CIO needs to possess a broader skill set. Skills that will prepare them to drive the creation and management of innovative technologies, and serve as a vital member of the executive team.

Many small and midsize businesses have an internal IT structure solely focused on the tactical aspects of running the day-to-day operations with neither the bandwidth nor the expertise to explore and execute new technology initiatives.

Our clients are constantly asking us to weigh in on strategic business decisions that can be enhanced by a technology component. The challenges can range from understanding the technology integration needs of an acquisition, to finding better ways to leverage disparate data sources to build a unified dashboard for the business, to selecting a technology that will power their business for the next 10 years.

Big Data. Big Possibilities.

Data and analytics should be used in every facet of companies today. Technology leaders understand this and see it reflected in their budgets with 64 percent of them across all industries investing heavily in big data. This data is used to guide sales, marketing, product development, production, customer service and more. The big data flood requires a CIO that can help functional departments gain the most insight from the data.

Managing data and its analysis requires delivering the right information to the right people. It means making sense of the information in an impactful and valuable way for the business today and in the future. And in today’s world the way in which data is used to drive business can impact governance, compliance and regulatory guidelines. Delivering the data without promoting an agenda or specific mindset is key and shifts the CIO’s role from simply delivery to helping understand its implications today and tomorrow.

Technology Innovator Not Just Implementer

The CIO’s role has traditionally been seen as implementing technology to assist in getting business done, but with today’s next-generation technologies, the CIO is key to the future of the business. Whether it is cloud-computing, enterprise mobility, or preparing for the increasing complexity of cyber threats, making sure companies are prepared is key to the evolving CIO role.

Preparing for the next step in technology for companies is a clear priority, with 70 percent of all North America-based respondents in a recent CIO survey identifying modernizing legacy applications as a critical or high priority for the 2016. New technology budget allocations are increasing, with 64 percent of CIOs reporting higher IT spending – an increase from the year before, which was just 46 percent.

It Has to Be About More Than the Technology

With burgeoning amounts of data and rapidly evolving technologies, a CIO must flex new skills to manage new challenges. The evolved CIO needs to build teams, relationships, and trust to ensure the strategic technology initiatives can be implemented across the organization and with success.

A great example is when selecting and implementing a new ERP system.  The CIO needs to get all the stakeholders on the same page about the process and how it will impact the overall business including each department. This is much more of a diplomatic skill than a technical skill.  Being able to listen to requirements, understand and analyze the priorities of the requirements, and communicate to the various stakeholders and eventually the vendors is critical.

Build a Skilled and Innovative Team

Great CIOs need great teams. Hiring or developing people with the necessary skills to move the company forward is essential.  Start by creating a culture that empowers creativity and problem solving. Transformation and innovation are challenging and full of surprises, so companies need a team that is prepared.

Nearly 56 percent of CIOs expect to see significant skills shortages in IT over the next year. Looking externally for the right skills is a necessity, but encouraging and rewarding from within cultivates internal talent that is innovative and already understands the goals and direction of the company.  We’ve seen clients with hidden pools of talent, waiting to be asked for input.  Spending time with the department staff, understanding who’s there, how they got there, and what they have to offer can make a big difference.

Build Relationships

CIOs cannot accomplish anything without the support and buy-in of the other executives in the company. By building important peer-to-peer relationships one can foster and drive strategic technology decisions across the company with support instead of hindrance. Other executives and department heads can throw up roadblocks if they’re not asked to weigh in on decisions.  Inclusivity is a philosophy that tends to pay dividends in both the short term and over the long term. Trust takes time to earn and every time you ask a team member their opinion you’re building another element of that trust.

Build Trust

For the CIO to have the role of driving strategic innovations they need to deliver on the current systems and exhibit best practices. This is achieved by making sure their infrastructure runs smoothly, on time, in budget, and meets the needs of the organization. With a track record of reliability and consistency, they can be trusted to help lead the next ‘big thing’.

The Changing Role Will Encounter Roadblocks

The heavy demands of today’s needs can often distract from building and shaping the innovative future. The need to see innovation as a critical business function and not just a luxury is important to this evolving role. Building relationships is building a bridge to the evolved CIO role. For example, 33 percent of CIOs surveyed say they have a service provider relationship with their LOB executives. Ideally, the CIO – even outsourced – is truly part of the team, unbiased, objective and transparent.

The Evolving Role

An evolving business landscape driven by data and technology requires a new and growing role for CIOs. This expanding role as strategic and innovative partner requires CIOs to have skills beyond their traditional areas of expertise, such as collaboration, relationship building, objectivity, strategic thinking, and an innovative mindset. These skills combined with the new IT landscape will change the definition of a CIO.