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What the Changing CIO Role Says About Future of Work

Is Chief Information Officer the most challenging c-suite job today?

Digital disruption is changing CIOs’ imperatives. CIOs have long had a place at the head of the executive table, designing new strategies and driving innovation across service lines. But the new ways the role is changing perhaps offers insights into how business itself is evolving.

Background: Understanding the CIO

The Chief Information Officer role came into vogue in the 80s, largely as a technical guru to oversee IT and manage a back-office service room. As digital technologies moved to the forefront of every business, the CIO took a seat at the proverbial table, adding strategy to their list of skills. Today, CIOs work with cross-functional teams to improve the organizational imperatives impacting the bottom line. One of the strongest imperatives today is the push toward digital transformation.

That’s because, as we noted recently: A business strategy built on digital transformation is embraced by many enterprise CIOs, and an entire $1.7 trillion industry has sprung up around the the effort.

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Tony Qui, EY Global Transaction Advisory Services, Chief Innovation Officer, writes: “Competition and customers at the forefront of corporate digital transformation strategy; technology is both an enabler and a threat. Barriers to entry are changing across many industries. Companies need to understand the ecosystem of their industry landscape in order to determine their best route forward. They may need to partner with others in order to offset these threats.”

CIOs as Digital Transformer

Enterprisers Project shared insight on additional ways CIOs impact digital transformation:

“Fast-moving, cross-functional teams of people from different parts of the organization experiment and innovate together to deliver new products and capabilities at an unprecedented pace. The old leadership rules don’t apply,”

CIOs today labor under increasing pressures as diverse as providing data security to managing technical debt to providing insight into new digitally-focused service lines. Technology is now crucial to every business function, and this has naturally elevated the importance of the CIO role.

Sephora CIO Savio Thattil told The Wall Street Journal that the job has morphed into an advisor role focused on new technologies, particularly in a retail space struggling to adapt to consumer demands: “As retail deals with the mass rapid adoption of consumer technology, I’m seeing my role shift to more of an advisor. Ultimately, I will need to balance staying on top of consumer technology trends, and deciphering what’s real and what’s just buzz, while being a mentor within an organization that is navigating the fast pace of change in retail.”

This illustrates an important point that, given the pace of technology advancement today, the CIO role plays an integral part in change management. Evaluating new technologies for their longevity and risk while still managing their implementation is an essential element of the CIO role today.

The CIO role is expected to continue to evolve.

Digital, Communications, Negotiations… CIO Skills Build

As opposed to simply shifting, CIOs’ required skills build on each other. Not only must they have the technical savvy to help determine how organizations should implement new digital tools, but also CIOs must also have strong communication and negotiation skills to build bridges between cross-functional teams.

These skills are particularly vital in enterprise organizations struggling to adapt to the significant workflow changes that will come with automation. CIOs can no longer hide in a basement server room but instead are being called upon to lead. Each CIO is now tasked with developing a business case behind each technology expenditure and function.

In addition, because IT is irrevocably connected to organizational mission, vision, and values — and business outcomes — the CIO must ensure that technology teams understand they are part of something bigger than the code they write. The CIO must be communication savvy, strategic, have high emotional IQ, and be culturally competent. Enterprisers Project says, “You might call them ‘soft skills,’ but any CIO will tell you these are the hardest skills to learn.”