Knowledge & Insight

Evolution of the CIO role

Thu 23 April 2020

The nature and scope of all boardroom roles is in constant flux, yet in recent years, it is the CIO position that has changed most of all.

From tech expert to strategic leader

The term Chief Information Officer came into existence in America in the 1980’s as the role of IT grew in influence to rival that of other C suite functions such as Finance and Operations. In the early days, CIOs were generally technical experts whose brief was to ensure stability of an organisation’s IT infrastructure and to oversee risk management and compliance requirements. But as firms came to rely more heavily on technology, not just for operations but to ensure efficiency, the scope of the CIO role began to change and expand, and CIOs were compelled to take a more strategic view.

Digital now the driver of disruption

Since the turn of the millennium, the nature of the CIO role has changed almost as radically as the technology. Once charged merely with ‘keeping the lights on’, the CIO now has a wider and far more crucial remit. A successful IT strategy reaches every aspect of every organisation, from maintaining an efficient workplace, to managing the customer experience. From product development, to sales and marketing, from finance to corporate communications. IT is at the heart of all business-critical functions.

Today’s typical CIO

While technical proficiency remains an essential asset in any successful CIO, most major organisations now demand a broader range of leadership skills from all their C suite talent. So today’s CIOs are expected to have first-class project management skills – essential for driving digital transformation programs. Strategic vision is also an essential asset, as IT is central to every organisation’s short-, medium- and long-term success. Excellent communication skills are necessary if a CIO is to interact effectively with all business areas and gain buy-in to change management projects. While a genuine willingness to learn is essential if the CIO is to stay at the leading edge of technological development.

From CIO to CEO

The strategic leadership skills that many of today’s most successful CIOs have ‘in spades’ means they are ideally positioned to make the next step up. And because digital transformation has become the primary driver of change and the central lever for disrupting markets, a commercially-savvy CIO is often the ideal candidate when an organisation is seeking to replace the CEO. Most CIOs boast a strong track-record of influencing strategic direction and delivering organisation-wide change programs. And the experience and expertise gained along the way often creates the perfect pathway to senior leadership roles.

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