The CIO is the ideal CEO for the post-pandemic world

BrandPost By Canon Business Services
Oct 14, 2021
Digital Transformation

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Credit: Dreamstime

Technology – and the role of IT professionals – was thrust right into the forefront of business leadership in the last two years. By leading and accelerating transformation projects, CIOs were able to help their businesses continue operations and find new opportunities through the disruption.

The numbers don’t lie. According to the IDG 2021 State of the CIO study, technology investment remains a priority for enterprises: 82 per cent of CIOs have implemented new technologies, IT strategies, or methodologies over the past year, and 61 per cent of businesses plan on investing further this coming year.

By showing leadership with these projects, many CIOs will have the opportunity to step further into CEO roles. One such executive that has made the transition is Luke Clark, CEO of Canon Business Services. In exclusive interview with IDG, he highlights how compelling the case is for successful CIOs to take that next step.

“The majority of the response to the pandemic was technology-based, and the CIO, obviously, was well placed to lead those types of transformations,” Clark said. “But secondly, CEOs were so busy with customers and employees and keeping everyone abreast of situation as things transform, that they left a type of leadership void. That was a great opportunity for CIOs to jump in and lead a business-wide transformation that was not just technology-based. For the most part, I think they’ve done it really well and stood up to the challenge.”

It was this ability for the CIO to step up, drive transformational change across the enterprise, and deliver leadership where the CEO is otherwise indisposed that lead the Wall Street Journal to report that CIOs are CEOs’ top strategic partner. In that research, high performing companies were twice as likely to have the CEO and CIO aligned to call technology “very important across all measured strategic goals,” than in low performing companies. With such alignment between the CEO and CIO role, it’s not surprising that companies are increasingly finding that CIOs make great CEOs.

One other advantage that CIOs have that make them ideal candidates for the CEO role is that they understand many of the board-level tensions. Security, for example, is an increasing priority for boards, who need to manage increased regulatory pressure. While CIOs might not have security as their core competency – that falls to the CSO – the CIO understands the conversation, and the broader business implication of security.

Bringing the organisation on a journey

One of the biggest challenges facing executive teams is articulating to the organisation the value of transformation, and managing any change management and employee concerns that arise from such projects.

It’s a tension Clark certainly felt, in needing to not only drive transformation across Canon Business Services, but also integrate teams across merged businesses. With 1,700 employees, aligning the organisation with the vision and bringing them on a journey was always going to be key to meeting the business transformation objectives.

“Fundamentally, you need to focus on the “why”: why are we making this transformation across the organisation? And then you need to work hard for those that are impacted to believe that the transformation is necessary,” Clark said in the interview with IDG.

“For us, the answer to the question was “it’s our purpose”. As a business we said our purpose is to free our clients to focus on what sets them apart and that grounding in transformation is what will make us successful in our own transformation.”

Finally, through the disruption of the past two years, CIOs have had to demonstrate that they do understand the people side of the business. Remote working solutions – which CIOs have had to drive (and often transform the business to accommodate) – needed to account for everything from the way that teams collaborate to mitigating the sense of isolation that some felt when working from home.

CIOs needed to demonstrate that their work went beyond managing cost centres. This was a facet of the role that was being talked about well before the COVID-19 pandemic became a disrupting force, but the past two years have accelerated the need for CIOs to turn IT to a positive and people-focused force within the organisation.

Traditionally, the CIO-to-CEO pathway has been localised to technology companies, but with CIOs in all sectors stepping up to bring leadership and transformation to enterprises, it’s going to be a more common pathway going forward. As executives like Clark show, with technology increasingly at the core of everything an organisation does, those CIOs that also have the people capabilities are the natural leaders for organisations… and over the past few years many of them have been the de facto leaders of their organisations anyway.

At Canon Business Services we optimise business processes, freeing you to focus on what sets your company apart. Talk to us at: