As business changes, so does the role of CIO

As business changes, so does the role of CIO
April 7, 2021  |  BY

Job titles are odd things. They indicate what you do for a living, but they can also limit the way others perceive the real value you deliver. No role exemplifies this problem more than Chief Information Officer (CIO).

As we all know, those with the CIO title have always been responsible for a lot more than “information”. They have been the backbone of the organization, assuring the efficiency of workflow and business processes. “Business decisions” were left to other leaders in the company.

But these days, CIOs have moved well beyond taking care of computers and networks. Now, in the age of digital transformation, they’re just as much as a strategic asset as the CEO and other executives.

The 21st century CIO must now consider every aspect of the business when making decisions. Operations, marketing, sales, production, and other pillars of the organization inform their choices. In that light, CIOs transformed from technologists to business strategists. Of course, that shift has been a long time coming. For at least a few decades, CIOs had to make a case for why they should be included at the executive table (and they should have been given a seat many years ago).

Today, CIOs are rightly seen as people with unique, multi-dimensional perspectives that are critical to strategic company initiatives. In fact, the era of leaders working in separate silos has gone the way of the dinosaurs. All successful organizations understand that the CIO must work in unison with other leaders, including the CMO and CFO, to accelerate growth. Smart CEOs now recognize that for them to lead great companies, the CIO must be a strategic catalyst. This mindset has now spread throughout the entire IT team, with individual team members engaged at every level of the company, with every department and function. They’re involved in the supply chain, compliance, intellectual property, even to sales.

And due to the “new” nature of the CIO, we’ve seen an evolution of related job titles. It’s common for an organization to have any combination of Chief Digital Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Data Officer, or Chief Analytics Officer.

Some CIOs shift into the Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Digital Officer role, which helps to drive the company’s digital transformation efforts. In this way, they’re able to shape the future of their companies, design new products and define new business models. They drive the company’s digital agenda.

With this entirely new set of responsibilities, some have called today’s CIO a “Transformational CIO.” They are the visionaries who lead digital implementation and engagement throughout the organization. And in doing so, other executives are now knocking on their office doors looking to collaborate, in sharp contrast to how executive dynamics worked in years past.

Despite being responsible for being a visionary, today’s CIO is also perceived as a bottom-line revenue generator. That’s a huge change: Not so long ago, IT was viewed strictly as a cost center. But now that companies must create value with technology, many CIOs actually bill their work to the departments for which they deliver IT services. Accordingly, CIOs can generate revenue for the company by creating new products and services.

Along these lines, IT departments aren’t necessarily just “order takers” anymore. Some requests have to be accompanied with an explanation of how the specific enhancement or modification will increase revenue or decrease costs. This is another example of how there is no longer a distinction between IT and the business.

Of course, CIO responsibilities have been slowly shifting ever since the dawn of the digital age. The difference in 2021 is that the pandemic has acted like rocket fuel for even more significant change. CIOs have gone from being perceived as technology experts to educators and influencers. Companies simply cannot make major strategic decisions without input from the CIO.

Technology is part of every fiber of an organization’s fabric. That’s why the pandemic proved that technology decisions have to be made as a group. Going forward, CIO roles will expand to have an impact on legal, regulatory, governance, and other elements that couldn’t have been foreseen even just a few years ago. And that’s a good thing for everyone else sitting at the executive table.