The role of the Chief Information Officer has evolved dramatically over recent years. With most of the ongoing digital transformation still ahead of many enterprises, CIOs will need to make another big evolutionary leap. The new facets of the CIO's role will require new skills - and even a fundamental cultural shift.
In the past, CIOs were charged with: evolving IT from a cost centre to a revenue centre; data centre modernization and IT consolidation; plus security, business continuity, as well as regulatory compliance projects. More recently, they warned against the risks of consumerisation and BYOD efforts, yet often initiated the move from old-fashioned client/server computing to the new world of cloud and mobile.
In the current age of digitization, technology is transforming practically every business and production process, putting organisations on a digitally-automated, data- and AI-driven foundation. So the modern CIO's role is dramatically growing in importance. And it keeps getting more complex, more demanding, and multi-faceted.
Among the many new aspects that will affect the increasingly crucial role of the CIO in the years to come, these are the four most critical:
Business Partner: The CIO must be thought of as a business partner within the organisation. With IT departments becoming more strategic and getting ever closer to the heart of the business value chain, it must be perceived as providing added value, rather than a cost centre, and as having a direct positive impact on the bottom line.
Having established this framework, the CIO must lead the C-suite to the digital frontier. The key term here is ‘business': many of the necessary measures may be technical in nature, yet the CIO will have to explain their relevance in business terms - not an easy feat, given that digital transformation keeps creating entirely new business models and business processes which few people have even considered.
Start-up Mentor: Innovation doesn't always start in the established IT stronghold - the PC revolution certainly didn't, and neither did the mobile/cloud revolution. This is why the modern CIO must have a start-up mentality and act as a mentor, constantly empowering employees (within the IT department or in the lines of business) who are willing to experiment.
The CIO will have to promote agile development methods to accelerate innovation and ensure that new solutions are designed with the evolving demands of digital natives in mind. Ultimately, the CIO will have to create a ‘start-up culture' that rewards employees who are willing to try something new, and if they fail, ensure they fail fast and fail forward and encourage them to try again.
Service Aggregator: In many enterprises, digitization efforts are spread out across the organization and new services and applications are spread across multiple cloud providers, resulting in a disaggregated array of department-level activities instead of a comprehensive digital transformation strategy. This is why the CIO needs to act as a unifying force and create a consolidated roadmap. In this capacity, the CIO must act as the technology and data integrator for the business units, championing a unified ‘digital-first' strategy along with underpinning technologies such as cross-departmental DevOps, self-service-driven process automation, more flexible workflows, and a strategic use of multi-cloud services.
Talent Attractor: While digital transformation may wipe out a variety of jobs by means of end-to-end self-service processes, AI-based decision making, robotic process automation, and autonomous long-distance transport, it will create a wide range of new professions.
Therefore, the CIO will have to laser-focus on attracting high potentials. This means not only procuring the latest and greatest gadgets and features for the IT team. It means providing secure, flexible digital workspaces that empower the IT team to work wherever and whenever they want, according to their individual preference or family situation.
The existence of IT is being questioned and the role IT plays is undergoing a massive change, with new critical elements complicating the CIO role. Leading the IT team into this new world is going to be a challenging job, in many cases even a business-critical one. CIOs must rise to this new opportunity. There will be no other way forward.
Christian Reilly is Chief Technology Officer for Citrix.