Growth, Innovation, and Change: The Evolution of the CIO

The role of the CIO is evolving from "keeping the lights on" to creating business advantages for their organizations through the use of technology.

It used to be that the office of the CIO was primarily responsible for buying and implementing technology to help employees work more efficiently and to automate business processes. The focus was mainly internal, and at times, more directed towards ensuring that systems were up and available than about finding ways to drive the business forward.

With digital transformation ongoing across the organization, that’s changing. CIOs are being asked to think more about the business and how to grow it through technology. CIOs need to actively support digital transformation, putting the right tools and information in the hands of employees, customers, and partners, and helping the business find new digital revenue streams. This transformation is creating entirely new business models, and new types of products and services that are made possible by digital. Their creative, innovative skill set is valued and needed more than ever in today’s economy to help create a sustainable path to long-term success.

The role of the CIO has fundamentally changed. CIOs are now responsible for creating business advantages for their organizations through the use of technology. That’s a broad statement, but it communicates a more current understanding of what, and how, a CIO contributes to business success. While still managing day-to-day IT operations, the CIO is also responsible for charting a digital strategy to increase their company’s reach.

Doing that requires a great deal of innovative thinking not just about technology, but how technology supports overall business objectives. Technology is the glue that connects people to the data they need to make business decisions. It’s also increasingly the foundation of a company’s business model and a revenue driver: companies like Uber and Airbnb exist due to technology.

We surveyed current research about executive goals and what they are doing to drive growth for their organizations. Because technology is such a pervasive element of any business, CEOs and their executive teams are relying much more heavily on CIOs to use data, software, devices, and new technology delivery channels to bring the company into a new era of business operations and opportunities. Here are five key focus areas for CIOs:

Innovation: CIOs must constantly stay on top of current technologies to understand how to avoid playing catch-up; this has become a major component of how they contribute to company strategy. They don’t just look for what’s latest, however. They want to apply the right architecture and delivery platform to lower costs and increase productivity.

CIOs also play a role in the digital transformation of their companies. More and more companies are recognizing that innovation needs to be an ongoing business strategy, and that it is their workforce that produces those disruptive innovations. CIOs need to ensure that they’re providing the tools and technologies across the organization to unleash the workforce’s creativity.

Analytics: The incredible volume and variety of data derived from technology sources can be overwhelming. CIOs are responsible for making all that data matter; by defining what is needed, how it should be delivered, and directing a plan for using it, CIOs are helping the business uncover highly valuable information that leads to smarter decisions. They are helping put this incredibly useful information into the hands of users across the enterprise who can make it actionable.

Architectural Foundation: CIOs are responsible for creating a technology and systems foundation on which organizational growth can happen. Through the implementation of solutions and tools, they can enable every team across the organization to do their jobs better. Finance requires ways to control costs and maintain expenses, HR needs innovative solutions to manage employees better, sales needs tools to forecast with better accuracy; everything the CIO does and implements can ultimately have an impact on the way the company achieves success, but only when they create the right technology environment to encourage it.

With the massive technology shifts underway, CIOs need to create an IT architecture that allows for scalability and agility. No one can predict the future, but with the right architectural choices, CIOs can ensure that their organizations are ready for it. CIOs are doing this with things like cloud-based infrastructures and other platforms that are flexible and enable growth.

Security: A risk of increasing digital reach is that more data becomes available to more people and in more ways. Therein is the definition of digital growth. CIOs must ensure that this data—about customers, users, partners, and their company—is secure. Without security at every level of the solution, they are leaving themselves open to huge risk potential that could damage the company and its stakeholders.

CIOs sit in a unique spot: they have the opportunity to create innovative growth strategies for their organizations through a combination of business knowledge and deep technology expertise. The technology they choose to employ must provide an advantage and also meet the needs of users. By focusing on these critical areas, CIOs will create an impact across the enterprise and impact stakeholders throughout the company’s ecosystem.

In future blog posts, we’ll dive more deeply into some of these areas and explore how the CIO can help the broader business find and sustain growth.

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