According to a Forrester report, CIOs are now viewed as the most important senior leaders in driving business transformation and innovation, and many believing they have more input than a CEO. Forrester highlights the CIO’s key role in supporting business change with technology playing a key part in breaking down barriers in the structure of organizations. These and more comprise the CIO's job responsibilities in 2018.

In the last decade, there is no doubt that the magnitude and complexity of CIO responsibility have increased. There was a time when IT leadership was only about implementing technology and delivering IT projects to time and budget. Clearly, these things remain important, but they are now ancillary factors. What really matters for the new generation of CIOs is delivering value to the business. This value can come either from how they support day-to-day operations to ensure that business and IT strategies are aligned or how they manage the delivery of IT-enabled business change.

The Role of the CIO Has Changed Dramatically

Technology now forms the backbone of most businesses. It is a major enabler of change and innovation and a driver of organizational planning and strategy. As such, today’s CIOs need well-developed business and leadership skills, in addition to their more traditional technical abilities, to operate successfully at this level.

The Gartner 2018 CIO Agenda, which surveyed 3,160 CIOs from 98 countries, found that CIOs at top-performing organizations report 56% of performance related to business outcomes vs. 44% related to IT delivery. Why? The accelerating adoption of digitalization and the quickening pace of technological innovation account for the transition that CIOs are making from delivery executives to business executives. “In this new world, success is based not on what CIOs build, but on the services they integrate,” says Gartner. Eighty-four percent of CIOs at top performing organizations have responsibility for areas of the business outside traditional IT, namely innovation and transformation.

The Forrester research finds that the majority of CIOs are “Leaders of IT,” working to ensure that the appropriate IT functions are involved in large-scale projects. Relatively uncommon (10%) are the CIOs who have extensive experience in advising and consulting on business transformation and are given the responsibility of leading the transformation themselves. But, as I have touched on, top performing organizations are led by CIOs who are given responsibility for transformation.

Many CIOs are Becoming Business Leaders

Not all CIOs are becoming business leaders. 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 IT could only deliver two out of 10 requests and that his department wasn’t responsible for leading on innovation. 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. But, then there are those who are born-and-bred technologists.

CIOs who fall into the category of born-and-bred technologist 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. To achieve this, they require a balanced set of skills that combines good communication techniques with sound business acumen, enabling effective interactions between different business functions. They must be innovators, agile, strategic thinkers who 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 CIOs need to have a proactive, questioning approach that thrives on challenging the status quo.

CIOs Need Technological Support Like Everybody Else

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, to help their teams be more productive and explore new possibilities, bringing fresh thinking to the organization. Computing research suggests that evolving customer expectations are what drive digital decision-making, and CIOs can use this “competitive force” to their advantage. Today, CIOs are being given greater responsibility for IT spend. And, as more CEOs are starting to deal with technology, CIOs need to be prepared to embrace a wider range of responsibilities and lead new projects.

But Are They Really Becoming More Pivotal?

Now we return to my initial question: are CIOs becoming more pivotal to the business than CEOs? CIOs are increasingly maturing into true business leaders. As they develop their skill sets, garner business experience in the wider organization 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. This breed will be well equipped to lead and deliver change and innovation. This new form of leadership can ultimately lead to IT expanding its literal and mental capacity for digital growth in an organization.