The New CIO: Evolve or Perish

Since the worlds of business and technology are evolving at a dizzying pace, it seems like a no-brainer that the role of IT leaders should change accordingly to keep up with, if not to get ahead of, the next big thing. In the past, the definition of a CIO has seen many changes. Even what the letter "I" in the middle stands for is a topic for debate. Is it Information or Innovation or Intelligence or Infrastructure or all of these things?

The cross-functional role of this position not only requires a variety of technical and interpersonal skills and a wide knowledge base, but also a great sense of balance between business and technology. There are thousands of white papers, research studies, training programs and self-help books on becoming one of the best IT leaders and avoiding fatal mistakes that have lead to the downfalls of CIOs. 

The 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium has sparked a lot of discussions and important conversations about the role of the CIO in an enterprise. A panel discussion in this year's symposium tackled this idea with the some of the best and brightest in the industry.  The 50-minute discussion, along with many other exciting talks, can be found  here on the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium's YouTube channel.

Personally, if I had to sum up three valuable pieces of advice for the CIO of the new age, it would be the following:

1. Stay Grounded to the Company

This means aligning CIO activities and goals with those of the enterprise. For example, one of the CIO's most important tasks is technology acquisition and purchase decisions. However, that doesn't mean CIOS should buy the newest technology for the sake of upgrading based on the IT hottest trends. A CIO's focus should be on improving the existing infrastructure and finding new technolgy that best heightens the enterprise's productivity and reach its business goals. Without IT-Business alignment, even the biggest innovations and brightest minds are rendered obsolete to the company mission.

2. Clearly Communicate to Anyone

The CIO can be thought of as an interpreter who translate the visions, goals, and plans of the IT structure of a company so that anyone from any background can understand. It is in the CIO's job description to present i n plain English IT activities and directions to clients, partners, or colleague in other functions of the enterprise. In fact, these activities should take up about 30 per cent of the CIO's time delegation (Weill & Woerner, 2013). 

If you cannot make a case for your department, you will receive neither external nor internal support because other parties cannot see the benefits, challenges, and growth that can come from your vision. A key component is the ability to take the tech out of the conversation and create transparency starting with the C-suite.

3. Prioritize, Proritize, Proritize

CIOs coming from a highly technical background may find it hard to leave behind their technical skills and deep involvement in technical operations. Some miss the technical activities and are less willing to take on the roles and responsibilities of management that are vital to a C-level position. If a CIO is stuck in the technical realm or disinterested in management, he or she cannot become a manager, a mentor, and an effective leader. The inability to lead will bring about a lack of respect and support from not only the C-suite but also the entire company and its external partners.

This is not to say that a CIO should completely abandon his or her knowledge and role in the formation of technical processes. It simply means a good balance and clear priority is necessary to fulfill the role. 

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Comments (1)

Mark WillsTopic Advisor
Distinguished Expert 2018

Not so much cross-functional role, but truly a multifaceted role.

Thinking of CIO as cross-functional, is a bit of a mistake. That is possibly why those three points have been identified and explained the way they were...

1) if not working to maximise the benefits and opportunity for your company, you will (should) be unemployed as CIO.
2) if you cannot communicate then you are not a CIO, and you will (should) be unemployed as CIO.
3) if you believe "prioritize" x 3 (apart from typos) means a discussion on having a techo background, then you will (should) be unemployed as CIO.

CIO is very much a senior executive position (hence 'Chief' and C-level role), providing direction and management covering a wide range of business processes. Now, while it is fair to say those processes are cross-functional and with the increasing complexity (and choice) within each functional area, it is the CIO's role to analyse and optimise those processes through the identification and exploitation of (knowledge) resources.

So, the CIO's understanding needs to be cross-functional, that ability combined with the ability of being able to communicate and to manage effectively and efficiently makes the role multifaceted (many sides).

Was intrigued by the catchy title, but a little disappointed with content. Sorry about that.

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