Role of the CIO (and

Role of the CIO (and “IT”​) in Dig-IT-al Transformation

Throughout the world businesses of all shapes and sizes and across all industries are being affected by constant disruption with the rise of AI, RPA, IoT, Blockchain, Augmented / Virtual Reality and many other emerging trends typically powered by Machine Learning.

These new technologies are being invested in heavily to modernise business infrastructure, accelerated digital transformation and optimise customer experiences.

As the saying goes, “there is nothing so constant as change”, and this often makes me think about how the role and influence of the IT department, and equally, the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), has evolved over the 20 years I have been in work.

When I started out, ‘distributed (or heterogeneous) computing’ was the hot topic disrupting traditional ‘mainframe (homogeneous) technology’ supported heavily by the advent of ‘Message-Oriented Middleware’ (MoM) and ‘Enterprise Application Integration’ (EAI). This was the age of giants such as DEC, Wang, Data General (who have now disappeared, read this Quora article) and pioneers such as TIBCO, IBM and Oracle. The role of the IT team was largely technical, centred on getting new applications delivered with a short term focus using new frameworks built on CORBA, SOA and programming languages such as COBOL, C and C++.

In those days, “IT” teams were seen as having very little relevance to the direction and strategy of the business. The role of the ‘CIO’ didn’t really exist and IT Directors were seen as technical gurus who had risen through the IT ranks with very little voice at board level.

Today, arguably, little has changed …

While the role of ‘CIO’ is more prevalent, it has been affected by the rising importance of the CTO (Head of Application Development or Software Engineering ?!?), and the advent of the CDO – the Chief Digital Officer – who is often the individual responsible for evangelising innovation, digital transformation and marketing optimisation often in partnership with the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer).

The influence of the CIO remains minimal and they continue to be excluded from ‘strategy development’ and, perhaps begrudgingly engaged during ‘strategy execution’ as this still required deep expertise in technology, data and automation. But for how long? All of these areas are increasingly available externally via Managed Services Partners (MSPs) who offer public/private/hybrid cloud solutions and externalised “packaged” services (i.e. IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, etc.).

But what of the future?

Digital transformation requires leadership & direction. According to the likes of Forrester and Gartner, CIOs are responsible for around 40% of the digital transformation. It is the CIO who is responsible for any organisation’s direction towards digital transformation – perhaps in partnership with the CMO (or Head of Sales & Marketing) who is often focused on digital marketing optimisation initiatives. This is further supported by the infographic (original source – Apogaeis)

Organisations going through digital business transformation are looking for ways to build and strengthen the bridge between technology solutions and business needs.

Inadequate technology increases customer attrition. World-class digital experiences depend upon seamless technology integration, advanced analytics, and the ability to constantly evolve in line with customer expectations.

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Technology architectures built around legacy platforms will continue to hinder digital progress. Few companies have the right technology in place to execute their digital strategy – assuming they have one in place. CIOs need to help their C-suite peers understand the need to invest in cloud platforms, APIs, data management, and micro-services (modern-day SOA) as the critical foundation for modern business applications that support digital business.

The infographic below summarises well the ownership of types of initiatives that feature in typical digital transformations. What is evident is the dependency on IT and, therefore, the importance of the CIO.

Closing words

In conclusion, I will end with an appeal to all CIOs and Technology Leaders.

Our world will continue to be disrupted by technology, a proliferation of information and social media.

Organisations have no choice: they must undergo digital transformation to truly become a “digital organisation“. The question is, how? New technology and new kinds of information change the lives of individuals and organisations alike. Every organisation, whether for-profit or non-profit, needs to ask itself what opportunities all these new possibilities offer, and what threats they bring. And most importantly: what must be done differently from now on?

CIOs face unprecedented challenges as businesses become digitised. Some will adapt and embrace the challenges becoming true digital champions in their organisations, others face the prospect of being sidelined and will be consigned to the role of an IT functionary, responsible for keeping IT systems running, but little else.

The future CIO has the potential to take centre stage with a “seat at the table” alongside the C-suite peers to influence “strategy development” as well as “strategy execution”.

However, for digital transformation to be successful, the role of the CIO itself needs to be transformed as well.

It’s time all CIOs rise to the challenge … in a collegiate, collaborative and strategic way.


How? By doing the following:

  • Establish relationships
  • Engage followers
  • Embrace and equip team members
  • Coach apprentices (think “amplify and multiply”)
  • Mentor new leaders (think “succession planning”)

The future CIO use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. These leaders inspire others to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations.

Are you ready to engage and be the technology leader that your organisation needs to be successful – today, tomorrow and the day after?


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