In recent years, we have seen significant changes to the role of the CIO, meaning that in the years ahead, CIOs will need to adapt and adopt new skills and capabilities.
Below, we’ll look at a few key roles of the CIO, how this position will evolve in the years ahead, and what capabilities CIOs will need to succeed.
Changes to CIO Meaning: Past, Present, and Future
The CIO’s role has evolved a great deal over the past several years.
While the CIO was once tasked with maintaining IT systems and functions, this position has evolved rapidly in recent years.
In part, this is due to digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation.
These sweeping shifts, after all, have radically changed the way we interact, communicate, and do business, among other things.
An organization’s ability to adopt digital technology, for instance, will often directly impact its ability to stay competitive and innovate.
As a result, CIOs are being called upon to take the helm of digital transformation initiatives and digital adoption programs.
Here are just a few examples of how the CIO’s role is shifting:
CIO as Business Leader
Gartner has pointed out that the CIO has changed and is no longer just a delivery executive, but a business executive.
IT services delivery and management are important, as we discuss below. But in today’s digital-first economy, IT plays a crucial role in business strategy and organizational performance.
Digital technology, for instance:
- Affects the performance and capabilities of the workforce
- Impacts an organization’s ability to pursue innovative, technology-driven business initiatives
- Is required to participate and compete in the contemporary marketplace
Given the increasing importance of technology in business strategy, it should come as no surprise that CIOs are being viewed more and more as business leaders.
CIO as Change Leader
Digital transformation initiatives, which leverage digital technology to improve the business in some way, are among today’s most common organizational change programs.
Since these initiatives rely on technology, of course, it is unsurprising that they require tech-savvy leadership.
According to the Gartner research surveyed above, change leadership will become one of the most important responsibilities of CIOs in the years to come.
That is, they will help to:
- Design and create digitally-driven organizational changes
- Manage and deliver digital transformation programs
- Guide digital-first organizational culture changes
Naturally, new responsibilities such as these will require that CIOs acquire new skills and capabilities, as we will see below.
CIO as Innovator
IT services delivery and management typically do not require that CIOs “think outside the box” or find new ways to innovate with technology.
However, when digital transformation and technology-driven innovation are the norm, CIOs must become innovators as well as IT managers.
- CIOs will become responsible for tracking and improving business outcomes
- The more digitally mature a company is, the more likely CIOs are to adopt greater levels of executive responsibility
- CIOs will be focused on emerging technology and leveraging that technology to improve an organization’s competitive position
Innovation, ultimately, has become so common in today’s economy that it is often considered the status quo – which means that innovative thinking is not just advantageous, it is a prerequisite for success.
CIO as IT Director
The CIO is also responsible for the maintenance and delivery of IT-related systems, services, and functions.
This is nothing new and it has always been a normal part of the CIO’s mandate.
As an IT deliver executive, CIOs are responsible for tasks such as:
- IT services delivery and management
- Guiding and implementing IT initiatives and investments
- Maintenance of IT infrastructure
While CIOs will likely always be tasked with tasks such as these, the focus of the position has, as we have seen, shifted towards more strategic tasks. In many cases, therefore, tasks related to IT services delivery and maintenance may be reshuffled and delegated to other managers.
Skills and Capabilities CIOs Need to Succeed in the Years Ahead
Since the meaning and responsibility of the CIO’s position are changing, so too are the requirements for this position. Succeeding as a business executive, after all, requires different skills and abilities than succeeding as an IT manager.
Those interested in pursuing a CIO position – or companies interested in hiring a new CIO – should look for skill such as these:
- Soft skills. Soft skills include so-called “people skills,” such as communication skills. These skills are essential for anyone in a leadership role, particularly executives, since their job requires constant interaction with stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
- Business strategy. CIOs must not only understand technology, but they must be able to understand the how and why of business operations and strategy. That knowledge, after all, will impact their ability to deliver business outcomes and meet the new expectations of their role.
- Change management and leadership. Digital business initiatives often involve organizational change, as mentioned above. This means, among other things, that CIOs must understand how change impacts organizations. Having a solid knowledge of change management will improve CIOs’ ability to lead, execute, and manage organizational changes effectively.
- Leadership. Leadership skills, such as the ability to motivate, engage, and mobilize employees, are crucial for anyone in an executive position. CIOs will, after all, be organizing and leading strategic business initiatives, and their leadership skills will have a direct effect on the performance of such programs.
In short, CIOs will need many of the same skills that other executives have, on top of their existing IT-related skills.