The changing role of the CIO

By Bizclik Editor

Written by Matthew Graham-Hyde, author of The Essential CIO


I don’t think one can underestimate the difficulties that will be encountered when trying to reinvent the role of the CIO. The CIO needs to be a true executive partner to the CEO with a vision and point of view on how to grow the business using new technologies.

Large traditional businesses in particular are set in their ways. They have their internal political clichés, vested interest groups and an ordered world which probably doesn’t see the threat to their business from changes in technology. The technology based new start-up competitors often initially look inferior as they attack the bottom of the value chain.

While I think that there is growing acceptance that the role of the CIO will change over the next two to five years, I haven’t seen evidence that the majority of CIOs want to see themselves as business development officers. Owning or shaping parts, or all of the strategy of the business and be responsible for creating and driving revenue growth opportunities.

But those that do see this as their future role have to recognise, a CIO can’t get there alone. The CIO will need the support of strong relationships with marketing and digital functions, with business leaders across the organisation. Finance and the relationship with the CFO needs to change. Many CFOs I meet are sceptical about technology and technology investment. Changing their view will be a key area to enable change.

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How does a CIO remove them from the day-to-day service delivery to concentrate on these wider business strategies? The ability to do so will be both critical and immensely difficult. I have yet to achieve this totally myself.

A lot of the changes that are needed will be facilitated by a CIO’s general management skills rather than technology skills. The only person who can lead the transformation of the IT function is the CIO. Some of the fundamentals of that transformation have been set out here.

The challenge for the CIO is to look at IT through a new lens and to combat the internal challenges of their learnt behaviours within IT that have been developed over many years of experience.

To understand where their business and markets are in terms of the impact of new technologies. Then reposition the IT function to get out in front of that change. Ideally leading that change in the business.

Creating a clear vision around IT transformation and developing a culture and skill set around the new disrupting technologies. Develop strategies to change the people skills and financial management of the organisation to create the investment and ability to move into new areas.

One option may be to re-create the IT function as a business, not a popular move in many organisations, but one which if successful, will bring a lot of the transformation threads together. An IT function that can be truly commercial in the way, creates a services approach with a cloud model and the financial levers will create a new dialogue with the rest of your business.

Understanding the detailed financial breakdown of a service based model needs to be the first step. Creating a new financial model that allows you to view and then compare the costs of a service based function with the external IT market, will enable a completely different view and strategy for the IT estate and function.

This moves the IT function away from managing assets, towards managing solutions for the business.

The CIO owns the current technology domain and doesn’t need to ask permission to make such changes. However, it will need good communication to create the understanding and collaboration of the business. The CIO may be surprised to find that with this understanding, a considerable amount of executive support will be readily available for this type of change.

The CIO needs to be a visionary and be able to sell that vision to a sceptical organisation, both within IT and beyond. Create a belief structure that pulls teams together in support of common transformational goals.

The CIO needs to be able to develop client relationships and enhance the products and services of their business in the marketplace, to commercialise the IT function with multi-skilled agile teams, capable of working in many different business situations equally comfortably.

There is a need to run IT like a business, whether or not it becomes a revenue-generating unit. In this way the IT function will develop more understanding of the challenges their colleagues are facing in other areas of the business. This will also create an environment to experiment and develop general management skills.

If the CIO gets up every morning thinking I am the CEO of this IT business, a different set of behaviours will be required and the need to look for different opportunities and outcomes will be generated. This is a critical part of CIO reinvention.

The CIO is not an endangered species and remains a critical role within any business. The challenge is to evolve the role in these revolutionary times, with even greater breadth of leadership responsibilities throughout the businesses.

Most CIOs I know become CIOs because they have a passion for technology and business, and a belief in how technology can help a business perform better when implemented well. 

These fundamentals haven’t changed, the role may be transitioning from its traditional model, but the potential for the role has never been greater.


Matt Graham-Hyde, is the CIO of Kantar and has over 15 years’ experience as a CIO in major international businesses. Matt is the author of “The Essential CIO” (£14.99 Panoma Press) which is available from Amazon now!


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