In this post, we’ll take a detailed look at the definition of the CIO role – we’ll learn what CIOs do, why they are important, and how this role is evolving.
The Definition of the CIO Role
The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is a senior executive role within an organization, responsible for managing all aspects of the information and technology functions.
The role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.
When the technology industry was in its infancy, information managers worked in organizations to oversee and maintain IT operations. Over time, as technology bred complexity in the workplace, information managers became CIOs, who alternated between operational and strategic roles.
In some companies, the CIO role has been viewed as a back-office function concerned with IT operations.
Today, however, business strategy often depends heavily on digital technology. For this reason, many CIOs are essentially business partners with senior leadership, rather than just technology managers.
CIOs’ job responsibilities can therefore vary widely and include tasks such as:
- Overseeing the IT department
- Managing, maintaining and upgrading IT services
- Defining the company’s technology strategy and roadmap
- Ensuring that the technology infrastructure and operations are in place to support that strategy
- Managing the IT budget and technology expenditures of the company
- Recruiting, hiring, and firing IT personnel
- Designing and maintaining the cybersecurity program
In many organizations, the CIO’s main focus has been on IT service management (ITSM).
However, as digital technology disrupts the business world, that is changing.
Gartner, IDG, and many other research firms, for instance, have pointed out that CIOs are now responsible for more strategic tasks, including:
- Designing digital transformation programs
- Changing the organizational culture
- Executing and leading digital strategies
CIOs are, in many cases, the best officers to fulfill tasks such as these, since they are the “bridge” between IT and the rest of the organization.
As we’ll see later, this expanding role carries certain implications for the CIO.
Yet regardless of whether the CIO is involved in strategy or not, this is still a crucial position for the modern business.
Why Are CIOs Important?
The short answer: every business uses technology, so every business needs a technology leader.
A more detailed answer, however, will actually depend on the organization in question. Organizations in different industries will, after all, utilize their CIOs differently.
Here are just a few reasons why CIOs are needed, both by for-profit and non-profit entities:
- Every organization must maximize the performance of its IT services, assets, and programs, and they need an executive to oversee this process
- Software ROI depends on many factors, from employee training to workflow design to IT tools, and CIOs play a crucial role in maximizing that ROI
- CIOs ensure that IT-based services are delivered effectively, efficiently, and affordably
- Many organizations are undergoing digital transformation, and the CIO is often an ideal change leader for these programs
In short, in the modern era, every business must be leveraging technology and data in order to stay competitive and to deliver value to their customers. Even organizations in the public sector, such as government agencies, need CIOs to ensure that their technology functions as expected.
CIO Challenges and Opportunities in the Years Ahead
There are a number of trends impacting the role of the CIO. As mentioned, for instance, digital transformation is having an extraordinary effect on the business world – and as digital innovation transforms the world, the CIO’s role will also transform.
In the years ahead, here are a few of the opportunities, challenges, and trends that will face the CIO:
- Taking a more active approach to IT strategy and operations
- Developing an IT roadmap and a digital transformation strategy plan in a volatile and ever-changing digital landscape
- Building working relationships with other business leaders, such as other executives and the board
- Integrating IT with the rest of the business
- Recruiting talented IT professionals in the midst of a global talent shortage
- Working with other business leaders to redesign business models and operational models
The CIO position has a promising future, as Gartner has emphasized many times. Since technology is reshaping the world we live and do business in, it should come as no surprise that digital leadership positions are in such high demand.
Who Should Become a CIO?
The CIO position can be very rewarding, but it’s not for everyone.
This role may be a good fit for people who:
- Are willing to learn new skills
- Are able to think strategically
- Have good communication skills
- Can innovate with technology
- Have a strong business sense
- Are effective at managing people
- Want to be both managers and leaders
In short, the CIO role is suitable for those who are experts at technology, business, and leadership. For more information about this role, check out our CIO FAQ, our article that compares the CIO job to other job roles, or our post that explores the CIO salary.