Emerging role of the CIO

The Emerging Role of the CIO as a Transformational IT Leader

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In today’s digital landscape, the emerging role of the CIO is that of a strategist and transformational leader. 

The days of the CIO as an operations manager are fading. 


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In fact, we’re now seeing a new breed of CIO emerge — one who can act as a business enabler and bring about change through their IT strategy and vision.

Below, we’ll explore the CIO’s emerging role as a transformational leader, why this shift will affect every organization, and how companies should prepare.

The Emerging Role of the CIO as a Transformational IT Leader

The role of the CIO is changing quickly, thanks to the growing influence of IT in the organization.

In the past, the CIO was known for being the organization’s manager of technology, with the focus primarily on cost. Now, many CIOs are beginning to take on a more strategic, transformative role – one that requires them to play an active part in developing the technology vision for their organization.

This shift is revealing a number of new trends in the CIO’s role:

  • With the rise in technology, there are more opportunities for the CIO to play a role in business strategy. CEOs and boards, for instance, are increasingly relying upon CIOs to participate in developing digital strategies. A CIO can be a powerful resource for a company, especially if they possess a skill set that is both strategic and technical.
  • CIOs will become more and more responsible for business outcomes, not just IT operations. In the midst of the digital revolution, the CIO plays a central role in maximizing an organization’s technology-driven capabilities – which, in turn, directly impacts their value proposition and their marketplace performance. According to research firms such as Gartner, CIOs are being held accountable for business outcomes, not just IT operations.
  • CIOs are increasingly integrating IT across business units and using IT to redefine business models. Since IT is pivotal to business strategy, strong digital leadership is needed to transform business operations. CIOs are the natural choice for this role, and they are frequently called upon to redesign business models, operational models, business processes, and even the organizational culture.
  • The CIO must be a leader and advocate for change within the company. IT leaders who achieve outstanding business results are characterized by their ability to act as a catalyst for change. Those CIOs who add the most value will be those that can both design change and proactively drive those changes forward.
  • To add value and stay relevant, CIOs must expand both their mindset and their skill set. Since the CIO is no longer just a technical manager, they must possess the proper skills to succeed in their new role. Relevant CIO skills include leadership skills, people management skills, project management skills, change management skills, and business skills.
  • Digitally mature organizations will need to expand or restructure their IT leadership team. As the CIO’s role evolves, they will need to both grow their own office and offload work responsibilities to others. For instance, the larger an organization is, the more necessary it will be to have other officers report to the CIO, such as Chief Data Officers (CDOs), Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs), and even Digital Innovation Officers.

In short: the CIO’s role is evolving rapidly, and the emerging role of the CIO is that of a business executive who can lead transformational business endeavors.

At this point, the question for many CIOs, IT leaders, and aspiring IT executives should be – how can one prepare for the digital-first future?

Implications for CIOs and Aspiring CIOs

To succeed, CIOs must have a different mindset, different skills, and a different way of working from their predecessors.

Here are just a few ways that CIOs and transformational IT leaders can prepare for the digital era:

  • Learn what the future holds. The post-COVID era, or “the next normal,” will look significantly different from the pre-2020 era. Among other things, we will see shifts in customer behavior, digital technology, government practices, geopolitical dynamics, and the digital workplace. By understanding what’s coming, CIOs will be able to more easily prepare for these changes.
  • CIOs need to be prepared for the next generation of technology. Tomorrow’s world will be reshaped by a wide range of technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI). To stay competitive and successful, organizations must understand their impacts and learn how to use them to their fullest potential. And, as a key leader in digital transformation, CIOs must influence and drive enterprise innovation, and transform IT from a cost center to a strategic asset. 
  • Businesses, workplace relationships, and IT departments should be reorganized to support digital business initiatives. Organizations should begin to revolve around technology, which will necessitate a number of changes, in areas such as the organization’s structure, the business model, business strategy, and, as mentioned earlier, even the corporate culture. CIOs can begin by building relationships with other members of the C-suite, then designing collaborative projects to further integrate IT into the business.

These are just a few of many strategic imperatives that CIOs should focus on in the years ahead. For more ways that CIOs can stay ahead, check out this post on how the CIO role will change in 2021.

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