The CIO’s role has changed significantly over the years, often bouncing back and forth between the role of a technology manager and a digital strategist. In this post, we’ll learn about the history of the CIO role, then see why CIOs will become the transformative leaders in tomorrow’s business world.
A Brief History of the CIO Role
As technology entered the workplace, organizations needed to hire people with technical skills to manage their operations. Below, we’ll see how this technology leadership position has shifted over the years.
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Before the 1980s, “information managers” ran IT departments.
Prior to the last two decades of the century, innovation was the domain of large companies, such as IBM.
For that reason, chief IT officers, or “information managers,” were typically tasked with procurement and on-site IT management.
It wasn’t until later that companies began to innovate with IT – and, as a consequence, CIOs began to work closely with other business leaders on strategic initiatives, digital innovation, and digital transformation.
The term “CIO” caught on in the 1980s.
In a book on information resource management, William R Synnott and his co-author first coined the term “chief information officer.”
This role was needed, they claimed, to counter the increasing complexity that was resulting from technology.
They envisioned the CIO as being an equal partner with other major executives, such as the CEO and CFO.
Importantly, they viewed CIOs not only as technologists, but as strategists.
Over time, some CIOs became IT operations managers, while others remained strategists.
Many companies recognized the strategic importance of IT, both as a performance booster and a competitive differentiator. In these organizations, CIOs maintained a high level of responsibility.
Other companies, however, relegated the CIO to the same role that they’d had prior to the 1980s – namely, they acted mostly as operations managers. In these organizations, IT was viewed more as a back-office function than as a driver of business value.
As digital transformation gradually transformed the business world, however, this began to change.
Today, the CIO role is returning to its roots as a strategic partner.
Digital transformation hasn’t slowed in recent years – disruptive innovation and the pace of change have actually accelerated.
CIOs, as a consequence, are being called upon to lead technology-driven innovation, spearhead digital transformation, and head up organizational change initiatives.
In fact, many CIOs already self-identify not just as strategic leaders, but also as transformational CIOs, according to sources such as IDG.
The Future of the CIO Role
What does the future hold for the CIO?
Here are a few trends to expect in the coming months and years:
The CIO is increasingly becoming a “business leader.” The CIO role is becoming more strategic, more business-oriented, and less focused on IT services management (ITSM), according to research from Gartner. Among other things, this transition implies that the CIO will need a subset of business skills on top of their IT skills.
The CIO will be responsible for driving digital transformation in the organization. All business leaders need to be digitally savvy, but the CIO, as the head of IT, is at the center of digital transformation. It’s their job to help their business identify and use technology to become more efficient, more effective, and more competitive in the digital economy.
The CIO will need to collaborate more closely with other business leaders. The CIO, for instance, will need to work with the CEO to make sure that the CIO’s vision aligns with the CEO’s and the company’s. They will also need to collaborate more closely with other line-of-business leaders and department heads.
They will need to understand the importance of emerging technology and digital transformation. Today’s emerging technology will drive tomorrow’s economy and company’s that adopt it early will become leaders in the digital age. CIOs, as the change leaders in the organization, will need to be the ones leading these innovative efforts.
CIOs have to be both tech savvy and business savvy to remain competitive in the modern organization. Technical know-how is sufficient for IT operations managers, but not for strategic business leaders or transformational leaders. To stay relevant, CIOs will need to adapt to their emerging role, proactively embrace their new responsibilities, and learn the right skills to stay successful.
CIOs will need to be able to make complex decisions in a very short timeframe. As CIOs become more strategic leaders, they’ll have to be able to make decisions more quickly than ever before. The new CIO will need to be able to make big decisions in a short timeframe, so they’ll need to be able to gather the right information and digest it quickly in order to make the right choice.To sum up: in the coming years, the CIO will no longer be the “IT person” who sits in the corner and provides infrastructure and support to the business. Instead, the CIO will need to sit at the table alongside the C-suite as a member of the business leadership team.