The changing role of the CIO

13 October 2020

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) has an impactful role. He is, after all, the most important partner of the company he works for. For all future plans, or simply to make the organisation run more smoothly. Most processes in a company are supported by ICT, not to mention innovations and digital transformation. The CIO acts as an enabler and an inspiration in digital transformation. According to Gartner (2019), CIOs now have the opportunity to take on a more assertive or offensive role. In addition, executives are more than ever willing to listen to them.

The earlier role of the CIO
In the past, the CIO mainly played a role behind the scenes of a company, where he ensured that the business processes were optimally supported by the ICT infrastructure, implementation and architecture. However, his tasks also included extinguishing internal ‘fires’. Ensuring operational continuity and stability was his priority. In itself a very important role, of course.

The current role of the CIO
Gartner conducted a survey of board and management members with regard to their expectations for 2020. The results, see Data News, showed that digital and technological disruption was seen as their main challenge by no less than two thirds of the people asked. In addition, half of the people surveyed considered digital initiatives to be their priority. It goes without saying that all of this then accelerated at the start of COVID-19 during the spring of 2020. This now gives the CIO the opportunity to leave his defensive role behind and adopt a more assertive role.
Although the CIO still retains all his traditional tasks today, he is also taking on a lot of new ones - at least if he dares to take that step.

The role of the CIO as an innovator
Among other things, digital transformation, internationalisation, the economy, and COVID-19 pose many challenges. Decision-makers are under extra pressure. The CIO can help in this regard. As an innovator, he/she looks for all possible opportunities to grow a company in the long term. He/she is not afraid of change, modernisation and innovation.

The CIO as a bridge builder
The CIO brings added value as an "intermediary" by virtue of building bridges between "his" IT infrastructure on the one hand and the different branches,  customers, relevant devices and the outside world in general on the other hand. He does this via AI, IoT, hybrid cloud and cloud connectivity; as well as via algorithms and telecom connections, whether or not in a data centre. In concrete terms, his task is to convert the strategic plans in the company into an ICT plan, and from there to build bridges to each relevant target group. And this applies in both directions, of course: if the company detects an issue or opportunity in the market, it must translate it into ICT terms and propose the appropriate strategy to the management team.

The shift from the a posteriori to the a priori approach
The CIO will also look for appropriate ICT tools to improve his business and make concrete proposals for new technologies that can be implemented by the company. He briefs his colleagues in "the business" about this, and if they agree with his proposals, he also implements them in an effective manner. Its function is shifting from an "a posteriori approach" to an "a priori approach". He chooses to scrutinise possible problems in advance to ensure that he has solutions - already in existence or yet to be devised - at hand.

The future of the CIO
In short, we can say that the role of the CIO has become much more extensive over a period of just a few years. He is no longer just an enabler, but also an innovator, bridge builder, and strategic partner. The CIO is indispensable in an innovative and growing company.
According to Gartner, a leadership self-assessment survey of more than 15,000 CIOs and IT managers still found that the majority of CIOs see themselves as reactive or defensive, rather than assertive or going on the offensive. In other words, it is also up to the CIO to take up the challenge. Now is more than ever the time for management and the Board to empower CIOs to make this turnaround. If we accept that the CIO is often still not yet part of the management team, there is more work to be done there too.