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The Evolution of the CIO

The line is blurring between the CIO, CTO and even CDO. But what of the future?



The title of Chief Information Officer has been around for about 40 years. And although it has been synonymous with Information Technology (IT) systems, curiously the title focussed on the “Information” rather than “Technology” aspect of the role. This has predominantly been because the role encroached into functions like policy, planning, budgeting, cyber security, delivery, processes and of course, information as part of the role remit.


Soon we started to see the CTO or Chief Technology Officer report to the CIO. The CTO had more of a technology focus within the department. Looking after strategy, architecture, software implementation and development, and occasionally the build of products and delivery. But over the last 10-20 years we have seen the emergence of new roles that have displaced and sometimes disenfranchised the CIO. Additionally, the evolution of technology has also shifted the role of the CIO.


In recent years we have seen the dawn of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). Arguably a transient role if done correctly. As the CDO becomes responsible for transitioning the business towards a Digital DNA, and sometimes look after Digital Operations until those operations just become part of doing business-as-usual. We also occasionally see the CDO as the Chief Data Officer with quite a different mandate but can also become quite a disparate function when you silo data from the rest of the business.


Another curiosity is the Chief Transformation Officer, which is also typically a moniker disguising the fact that it's a transient role to govern a multi-year, cost-cutting transformation a company will go through, but will often have technology automation or simplification projects underpinning some of these savings.


We also see the accountabilities within a CIO and CTO quite blurred when comparing traditional organisations to Digital Natives. Traditional organisations are often wrapped in complex licence deals or vendor partnerships that a CIO brokers and is accountable for. Within a Digital Native, very little of the technology is bought or outsourced and therefore it's up to the CTO to look after the core products and platforms that are built in house and don’t rely on Common-off-the-Shelf (COTS) systems.


So where does that leave us for the future?


We are likely to see a redefinition of the CIO role if it is to remain relevant. A move away from reliance on managing 3rd party vendors and complex outsourcing agreements, but more towards aligning technology strategy with the business strategy. These 2 strategies can no longer remain independent. In fact they need to be complimentary. An enabler to each other in the true sense of the word. Often the CIO needs to understand the business strategy and then derive the IT strategy to serve it. And the Board has typically expected that. But within a Digital Organisation, this is often left with the CTO. And the technology strategy becomes “part” of the business strategy. And in many ways influence it.


This needs to be done in an ongoing and iterative way where one influences the other, but this viewpoint has to be brought in from the leadership team down. Starting with the business objectives and goals, working on how technology is going to support it. Then applying a technology lens to identify new opportunities that can unlock further goals, and then back towards the business lens and so on.


Emerging and innovative technologies need to be considered as core, not a wish-list. How does Cloud, Data, Operating Model, Cyber and more nefarious topics such as Digital Twins or even Quantum Computing lend themselves to the roadmap and strategy? This will introduce a balance to unlock the true value of a next generation Chief Information & Technology Officer.


What are your thoughts? If you are thinking about your organisational structure, and how to define the leadership roles to best delivery on the business objectives, we can certainly help. Help with defining the structure, the role descriptions and even the strategy.



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