From Tech Expert to Business Leader: How the Role of CIOs is Evolving

by | May 22, 2023 | Professional Growth & Careers

In-depth IT skills and knowledge no longer is enough for a CIO to thrive in an executive position. The role of the new CIO has shifted from the old IT-driven leadership paradigm to a model based on leading as a business partner, strategic advisor, and facilitator of business plans.

Several reasons have shifted the role of the CIO, starting with information technology itself. The commercialization of technology, especially with the development of sophisticated mobile device platforms, influences consumer demand to the point where CIOS must make business-oriented decisions. As cloud technology continues to develop, consumers expect real-time solutions to be available all of the time. This means IT has emerged as a part of the products and services offered by a company, and CIOs must fill the role of enablers to ensure the rapid transformation of the new business paradigms

Another factor changing the role of CIOs from tech experts to business leaders concerns the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift to remote workplaces forced CIOs to adapt quickly by making business decisions and creating IT strategies to meet the demands of remote workers. CIOs had to balance their department budgets with the demands placed on them to provide remote workers with the appropriate technology. The incredible speed at which CIOs had to adapt helped them develop business leadership skills that should keep them ahead of the curve that dictates their new role.

What Are the New Responsibilities for CIOs?

CIOs have assumed several additional responsibilities that define their new roles as business leaders. As organizations depend more on technology to achieve business success, the role of a CIO has evolved well beyond the traditional responsibilities associated with information technology. A growing number of CEOs across all industries call on CIOs to act as agents of change in their new role as a business leader who drives growth and innovation.

One of the most important responsibilities of the new CIO concerns integrating automation into a digital transformation program that attracts and converts more customers who shop online. Automating IT functions improves the interactions consumers have with company websites, which increases the likelihood of changing a potential customer into a lifelong patron of a business. The automation of traditionally manually-driven processes also must adhere to more stringent eco-friendly policies that promote sustainability.

The new CIO who develops business leadership skills also must think like a marketer, accountant, and human resources professional when it comes to the IT department. CIOs that master the human resources component of business leadership implement recruitment strategies that attract the most talented IT professionals. Once they attract the best talent, the next step involves keeping team members engaged by preparing them to assume more IT-related responsibilities. Retaining the best talent also has become a vital part of the new role assumed by CIOs.

In our Meet the CIO series, we ask top CIOs how their roles and responsibilities have changed over time. Here are some highlights:

The job of the CIO back then was more of this hand holding process of dealing with true infrastructure-level issues. Today, the CIO is more strategic in technology because there is no shortage of hardware or software solutions out there that are relatively easy to implement. Today it’s more about.. should you implement it?” – Mel Heckman

The biggest change has been that business partner engagement and really talking to them, and more importantly listening, as to where the company wants to go, what their changing needs are, and building and changing accordingly. And I do think you should be enticing them with new things that you’re hearing about...” – Maria Haight

How Has the Cloud Molded the New CIO?

No other trend has influenced the new role of the CIO more than cloud technology. Not every organization has created a cloud-only IT platform, but almost every organization has adopted a cloud-centric IT strategy. The change from IT expert to business leader means CIOs must understand the many benefits of cloud technology, such as lower capital costs and much faster access to information that leads to better business solutions.

Cloud technology has shifted the balance of power between consumers and companies. Consumers have many more choices, which gives them more solutions to choose from when solving difficult problems. The shift in the balance of power emphasizes the importance of CIOs creating customer-first solutions that rely less on information technology and more on business leadership. CIOs must get involved with the timeless goal of attracting customers, and then maintaining strong business relationships with them through interactions done through the cloud.

What Are the Future Business Skills CIOs Need to Develop?

The new CIO as a business leader requires the development of four key skills. First, CIOs must improve their business knowledge, such as how to forecast business trends and identify market changes. They also should gain a better understanding of accounting principles.

Second, CIOs must gain an understanding of the big picture, not just the operation of the IT department. Concepts such as return on investment, as well as meeting the needs of team members, should become a part of the foundation for developing the new CIO as a business leader.

Third, CIOs must learn to lead with empathy, which became an integral part of a CIO’s role during the pandemic. Helping team members adapt to rapid changes represents a positive response that comes from empathy.

Fourth, business leaders must lead with transparency, which also applies to the new CIO.

The Bottom Line: CIOs Have a New Role

The new role of a CIO as a business leader is not a fad born out of the changes required to meet the demands of the new normal established by the pandemic. Instead, the new role of a CIO has evolved into a permanent role as a business leader. To take your career to the next level as a CIO, you must develop business leadership skills in addition to offering superior technical acumen. The new role of the CIO is evident in another trend.

A growing number of organizations are looking outside their IT departments for the next CIO.


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