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How the CIO Role Will Change in 2021 and Beyond

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Over the past several years, the CIO role has changed significantly – and in 2021, it will continue to evolve significantly.

In this post, we’ll explore why the role of the CIO has changed, how it will continue to evolve, and what CIOs can do to prepare for the future.

The Changing Role of CIOs in 2021 and Beyond

Analysts and research firms have widely recognized that the CIO’s role is rapidly changing. 


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According to IDG’s 2020 State of the CIO Report, for instance:

  • 95% of CIOs said that their role was expanding beyond traditional IT responsibilities
  • 39% of CIOs reported that their top priority was leading digital transformation initiatives
  • 31% claimed that boosting corporate resiliency through IT and data security was a top priority
  • 29% prioritized the collaboration of IT and business collaboration skills
  • Strategic tasks became a top activity in 2020, increasing from 4% to 25%

In short, CIOs are transitioning from traditional IT service delivery to a more strategic role. 

This same survey found that most CIOs are spending more time on aligning IT projects with business goals (44%), leading business innovation (34%), and leading organizational change programs (34%).

The convergence between IT and operational technology (OT) has also become a top priority for many CIOs in this survey(88%). While IT and OT systems have traditionally been deployed and managed separately, this has resulted in inefficiencies, data silos, communication problems, and so forth.

To sum up, the CIO is no longer just responsible for IT services management. Instead, they are taking their place alongside other business leaders and leading strategic initiatives. 

In the years ahead, this trend will continue. 

To better understand where the industry is headed, though, it pays to understand the past and what factors are driving these changes.

Why the CIO Role Is Changing

Historically, the CIO has been responsible for deploying, managing, and maintaining IT systems across the organization. 

However, as most of us know, digital innovation and technology-driven change have reshaped the global economy. Today, the economy and businesses are both powered by digital technology.

Disruptive transformation has fueled business growth, competitive shifts, changes in business models, and more.

Changes such as these have placed IT at the center of business strategy.

To stay successful in today’s digital economy, for instance:

  • Organizations must align digital strategies with their business strategies
  • Businesses must have the digital capabilities needed to implement their business agenda
  • Employees must be well-trained and digitally savvy 
  • Innovation needs to be a central tenet of business strategy
  • Companies need to prioritize resiliency as well as efficiency, both of which depend upon digital maturity

Naturally, since IT is playing a more central role in the modern business, CIOs’ roles are also changing. They must be flexible and adaptable enough to take on these new responsibilities. 

Of course, as they adopt new responsibilities, others, such as CTOs, CDOs, and other IT leaders, will take on other tasks that CIOs leave behind. 

In the years ahead, it is important for businesses to rethink the role of the CIO and reshape their business models accordingly.

How to Prepare for the Changing Role of IT and the CIO

Here are a few trends that will impact the CIO’s position in the years to come. Understanding and preparing for those shifts can make a big difference in an organization’s ability to survive and thrive in the digital future.

CIOs will be called upon to leverage emerging technology to drive business performance.

CIOs have always had to keep up-to-date on emerging trends and technology.

This will become even more important in the future. New and emerging technology, such as AI, IoT, and blockchain, will radically transform the world, after all. Many, in fact, predict that such technology will have an even greater impact on society than the internet did.

However, CIOs will not just be required to stay updated on these trends – they will be required to invest in them and use them to drive business performance.

IT leaders will also drive culture changes that revolve around digital technology.

The more central digital technology becomes in the modern business, the more culture must adapt to that shift.

A digital-first organization, for instance, will perform better if it has a culture that is:

Cultures and behaviors associated with traditional office environments, after all, may have difficulty operating in work environments that are digital-first. For instance, as we all know, offices around the globe became fully digital and fully remote during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both now and in the future, CIOs will take an increasingly prominent role when it comes to creating a digital-first corporate culture.

The CIO role will shift more and more to leadership, rather than IT management.

As IDG’s survey revealed, most CIOs are transitioning towards strategy and away from IT services management. And, as mentioned, other IT leaders are picking up these responsibilities.

In the future, we can expect this trend to continue. 

Digital technology, after all, will become an increasingly important part of the economy and the business world.

Many organizations have already begun to hire new IT leaders to take on responsibilities related to digital strategy.

A few examples include:

The CIO, however, is an established executive role and it will undoubtedly remain for years to come. 

As digital innovation and strategy becomes more important, CIOs will undoubtedly be the ones to take the helm and lead these efforts.

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