The Changing Role of the CIO: From IT Management to Business Strategist

Over the last 10 years, the way organizations share information, store information, buy supplies, and sell services has transformed completely. Technology has changed the nature of work and altered the expectations of business leaders and employees alike. Also, there is an ever increasing level of “direct to consumer” marketed technology that is being brought to the workplace – without being provided by the IT department. All of these factors have required the CIO to go from manager of IT to the architect of a technology platform that serves and enables all business needs.

The Traditional CIO – Master of Operations

The traditional role of the CIO oversaw the company’s technology needs– ensuring internet connectivity, deploying voice communication systems, installing desktops, managing servers and the like. It wasn’t uncommon for the IT department to be somewhat disconnected from the company’s business goals as they were focused primarily on the delivery of IT services. The main responsibilities of the CIO were operational; delivering infrastructure and ensuring uptime of necessary systems.

Today, IT staff focus less on infrastructure and more on the applications and services that make the organization function. CIOs have switched their focus from operational tasks to strategic projects involving business applications, typically with two goals in mind: adding value to the organization and driving efficiency through technology.

The CIO of the Future – Focused on Strategy

In today’s business environment, more top executives are realizing that CIOs must have a seat at the leadership table. According to a recent study conducted by CIO Insight, the role of the CIO is going to continue to change over the next five years. They estimate that 70% of CIOs will move away from an IT management function, becoming innovative partners to their executive peers and integral contributors to business strategy.

What Does a Strategic CIO’s Role Look Like?

The most effective CIOs participate in strategic planning efforts, putting services in place that drive revenue instead of simply delivering IT infrastructure like networking, servers, and storage. They work to cut through utility functions and take over the performance of business-critical applications like sales management, ERP and ecommerce.

The profile of a successful CIO is no longer the manager of the on premise data center. Technological expertise alone is not sufficient, nor is solely business acumen. Today’s IT leaders must have their fingers on the pulse of technology trends and understand how those trends may or may not drive business goals. They must also an understanding of how current technology can not only improve productivity and reduce costs, but how it can drive profitability. That means “speaking the language” of every department from marketing to customer service to shipping.

The role of the CIO will vary from organization to organization, however the trend is clear. Technology leaders are moving away from basic IT management and operations and moving towards a more strategic role. While that shift has been slow, it will continue to evolve and the CIO of tomorrow will bear little resemblance to the CIO of even five years ago.