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Five things the modern CIO needs to do every day

(Image credit: Future)

It seems so long ago and far away: The CIO’s main mission was to “keep the lights on” – deliver IT efficiently and cost-effectively across the organisation, much like a utility company is responsible for reliably providing electricity.

Digital transformation (DX), however, has created dramatically new expectations – and new opportunities – for a job that traces its history to 1981.

Today’s CIOs are still responsible for maintaining sturdy back-end systems – the reality is that most large companies still run many core business processes on them – but they’re also expected to be huge players in the adoption of digital technologies to drive new, value-generating business models.

Nearly two-thirds of CIOs surveyed in IDG’s 2019 “State of the CIO” study said the creation of new revenue-producing initiatives is now among their responsibilities. In addition, 88 per cent of the CIOs reported being more involved in leading digital transformation initiatives compared to their business counterparts. And in another sign of how CIOs are increasingly focused on business strategist tasks, 78 per cent said they are communicating with the Board of Directors more than ever before, up from 67 per cent in 2018.

“As DX continues to mature, CIOs are shouldering more responsibility in areas where they previously didn’t have a strong presence,” the report said. “To support the creation of new revenue-generation projects, CIOs are learning about customer needs, creating teams focused on innovation and creating business case scenarios with defined costs and benefits.”

As Deloitte’s most recent CIO survey report put it: “To remain relevant and influential and help their organisations use technology to enable business strategy, CIOs should develop themselves as change instigators and business co-creators.”

So the “I” in “CIO” now seems to stand for innovation as much as information. But what should that look and feel like in practice? What routines should a CIO be following to be successful in this changed role?

I talk to many CIOs week in and week out, and I’ve observed similarities in what the leading ones do to walk in lockstep with the business on the DX journey. These are the top five:

1. Be an aggressive and proactive partner. The role of CIO, once considered a cost center, is now expected to be a business partner. He or she should be front and center in combining a deep, chief-technology-officer-like grasp of technology with how it can specifically help the business though the creation of new services.

The CIO must go all in on comprehending and anticipating the business’s needs, understanding and explaining the value of key technologies (especially emerging ones like artificial intelligence), and guiding their development and incorporation with legacy processes and systems.

2. Lead the data strategy. Data is everything today. One of the CIO’s top priorities must be having a solid read of the company’s “data map.” By “data map,” I mean understanding sources, integrity, interoperability, accessibility and how those data sources combined can add new opportunity. Many organisations already have a chief data officer and a dedicated team managing data, but the CIO should be the supreme “eyes” over how data can be used to shape new business models.

Vanguard CIOs know whether or not the data team is able to keep pace with the other teams driving innovation. If the data team is not… leading CIOs are taking action to modernise data-related processes and tools.

3. Ensure high-velocity application delivery. Ultimate responsibility for the company’s software pipelines lies with the CIO, and he or she must encourage the highest levels of developer productivity and innovation. That means giving developers the automation tools and standardised pipeline they need to be most efficient and taking an active role in spearheading agile cultural changes such as DevOps.  One idea is setting up an innovation lab for development teams to experiment, learn and adopt new processes.

4. Establish cross-functional teams. The modern CIO is adept at reaching out across the organisation and leading cross-functional teams that include a range of stakeholders from the lines of business. This guarantees an ongoing conversation on aligning technology with the needs of the business, and integrating new innovations with existing or redesigned business processes.

5. View “shadow IT” as an opportunity, not a threat. As more business functions gain control of their own technology spend, “shadow IT” is growing. Rather than regret a loss of control, smart CIOs are recognising an opportunity to work collaboratively with the lines of business and determine together the most effective ways to leverage innovation. According to the 2018 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey, “Many are taking an active role in embracing shadow IT, leading it out into the ‘light’ of active governance and support.” This makes the CIO a credible business partner rather than a roadblock to be avoided.

The CIOs I talk to recognise that one of the many things digital disruption has disrupted is their role, and that they must adopt new strategies to survive and thrive. These five steps seem a great start.

Derek Hutson, CEO, Datical

Derek Hutson is CEO of Datical (, an Austin, TX-based database release automation software company.