The changing role of the CIO

Ever wondered how to define the role of the CIO? According to Wikipedia, the job title Chief Information Officer (CIO) is exactly the same as an IT director or a Chief Digital Information Officer (CDIO). It is a job, it states: “commonly given to the most senior executive in a company responsible for the information technology and systems that support enterprise goals”.  

Yet perhaps the fact that there are three job titles for what, in theory, is the same role, is a sign-post to the complexity and lack of clarity surrounding the position. For whereas a decade ago a CIO would chiefly be concerned with the IT infrastructure of a company, today the position has evolved dramatically with a bevy of additional challenges.

Why has the CIO’s role changed?

It’s fair to say that keeping up to date with what’s happening in the world of technology is complex. Just keeping track of all the acronyms is hard enough – for every VoIP there’s a SIP; and for each SDN there’s an SDDC. Of course, the reality is that these technical aspects are rarely of any use to the modern CIO because trying to keep up to date with technological changes is like fire-fighting – every time you invest in the latest hot new thing, a new flame emerges to burn through your hopes of being ahead of the game.

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Technology has nonetheless had a huge influence on the role of a CIO. Whereas a decade ago they were concerning themselves with a mainframe computer, today they must deal with users who will access information via a smartphone or a tablet. The power has effectively moved away from the technology itself and into the hands of the users – whether they are a business’s customers or simply the company’s employees.

In addition, the emergence of new technologies has been accompanied by a growth of security issues. CIOs now have to concern themselves with a host of threats that could impact not only the company’s employees but also its customers.

With responsibility comes power

The increased responsibilities and burdens that have beset the CIO have also increased their power and influence within an organisation too. A recent Forester’s survey determined that the CIO’s position is the most important within a company – even ahead of the CEO. Indeed whereas a CIO would rarely have met with a CEO in the past, today they have much more influence in the way a company is run and are likely to be much more closely aligned with the firm’s overall business strategy than they were 10 years ago.

However, this also means that CIOs are being forced to look beyond simply “IT matters” and to also consider changing business regulations and laws to ensure that their infrastructures meet the responsibilities of the business as a whole. As such a CIO must look beyond whether the company’s servers are provided by Dell or HP and instead examine the overall capabilities of a network to support a business – such as by examining whether the performance and capabilities of a cloud provider are sufficient to meet the service needs of a business.

So how can a CIO prosper in today’s environment?

While each organisation will have its own demands, the modern CIO can apply three broad strategies to help him or her succeed in today’s rapidly changing environment.

Act as a business-focused advisor

Remember that your role is no longer focused solely on IT. Instead you should look to get involved as quickly as possible in the strategic and tactical needs of a business. This will allow you to look for the best overall systems that match the company strategy and feed this back to the business in a way that it can understand – by focusing not on speeds or feeds but instead on what a system can offer in terms of risk reduction, cost savings and overall value enhancement for the business.

Yes you need to ensure that the systems you are employing meet performance and security criteria, but they should also meet the overall approach of the business and match its policies and procedures.

Become a sponge for information

A modern CIO needs to understand how the workflows between the company and its suppliers and customers work while also ensuring technological areas such as the Internet of Things are being capitalised on to enhance the business’s output. As such it has become necessary to be a sponge for information.

Of course finding this information is a difficult task in itself – there is simply too much information available on the internet to easily locate those unmissable gems, and even paid-for information may not be what you’re looking for. Therefore try and build on sources you trust – read articles by authors whose background you know about; and employ analysts you can rely on.

Create a good team

As the CIO you may be at the head of all things technology in your company, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share the workload. Look for the right people who have a depth of knowledge. Find people who don’t just know what the Internet of Things is and how it works, but who will also be able to contemplate how it fits within the business’s overall needs. Effectively the IT teams of today are no longer just technical wizards – instead they are a breed of business architects. Each should be able to use a number of sources to increase their knowledge in an area – and then you can ensure this meets the overall needs of the organisation.

Your importance is growing

If you’re a CIO then you’re wearing more hats than ever – and this means you’re vital to your organisation’s success. Your goal should no longer be to change for the sake of technological change – but instead to support continuous change that helps your business achieve technical flexibility. If you remain hyper-technical you’re likely to be limited to highly technical companies such as cloud service providers – however, if you want to expand your horizons then you need to be ready to go beyond the computer screen and ensure your business stays ahead of the market across the board.

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