Are CIOs the new CEOs?

Many CIOs are becoming business leaders – but not all are moving in this direction. In my experience this is often down to the individual. For example, I recently met a CIO at a trade show who felt that his role was to tell the business why out of ten things that the business had requested, IT could only deliver two and that his department wasn’t responsible for leading on innovation.

This reinforced in my mind that despite the job title, many CIOs are still largely IT managers at heart and don’t fully understand what it takes to lead, shape and deliver a large IT project. Don’t get me wrong there are CIOs who have a keen understanding of the business and approach technology from a business driven perspective, and there are those that are born and bred technologists.

I believe that the magnitude and complexity of responsibility has also increased. Time was when the IT leadership was just about implementing technology and delivering IT projects to time and budget. Clearly these things remain important but they are now hygiene factors. 

What really matters for the new generation of CIOs is delivering value to the business, whether this comes from the way in which they support the day-to-day operations, ensuring that business and IT strategies are aligned or by helping to deliver IT enabled business change. 

As for those CIOs who fall into the category of ‘born and bred technologist’ – they must evolve or they will become irrelevant. They must develop a keen understanding of the business, be effective at collaborating with different business teams and understand the importance of any IT project they are leading. 

In order to achieve this they need a balanced set of skills that combines good communication techniques with sound business acumen, enabling effective interactions across different business functions. They must be innovators, agile, strategic thinkers that embrace new technologies and new ways of approaching old problems. 

Today, businesses change at the speed of light and CIOs need to have the capability to quickly change direction to keep pace with business requests. Above all, I believe they need to have a proactive, questioning approach that thrives on challenging the status quo.

However, to deliver some or all of the attributes outlined above, CIOs really need to be supported by agile, flexible, ‘plug and play’ technology that enables them to rapidly deliver what the business needs. They need agile and adaptive systems, not clunky hard-coded applications, to give them the freedom to innovate and more importantly help their teams be more productive and explore new possibilities, bringing fresh thinking to the organisation.

So back to my opening paragraph and question: are CIOs becoming more pivotal to the business than CEOs? I believe this is changing with CIOs increasingly maturing into true business leaders. As they develop their skill sets, garner business experience in the wider organisation rather than just in IT, and function more entrepreneurially (whilst retaining a ruthless focus on good business practice), then I think we’ll see a new breed of CIO that is well equipped to lead and deliver change and innovation.

Zahid Jiwa is UK and Ireland VP at OutSystems 

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