by Anna Frazzetto

Waning or waxing? What’s happening to CIO influence?

Jan 28, 2019
CIOIT Leadership

Those who want to see their influence grow rather than shrink need to look for opportunities and partners rather than losses and interlopers.

The influence of technology across businesses of all industry and size continues to rapidly expand. Can the same be said when it comes to the influence of CIOs who lead tech organizations? Up until 2018, CIO influence had been growing steadily, but then something changed. The 2018 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey found that fewer CIOs were on executive boards. In fact, that number went down a solid 9% from the year prior, underscoring the hard road many CIOs have traveled trying to gain equal footing with other C-level leaders. As the CIO Executive Council wrote in 2018, “…there is still a widely perceived gap between the CIO as a technology officer and other C-level executives as corporate officers.” What’s causing declines in the markers of CIO influence? Should IT leaders be concerned that their once growing influence is waning?

For CIOs, advancements in technology—the ever-constant disruptor—is one culprit affecting CIO influence and authority, but it’s not the only one. There are newer influencers—data officers, digital officers, and marketing officers (to name a few)—who have growing tech expertise and there are more and more technology projects managed entirely outside of the traditional IT operation. Certainly, it is a time of change and fluctuating influence for CIOs, but with each of these shifts also comes opportunity—opportunity for growth and perhaps new kinds of organizational influence.

Displaced or elevated by transformative tech?

Ten years ago, most enterprise systems, software and infrastructure were developed and managed inside the business and under the remit of the IT organization and its head—the CIO. Today, cloud computing and digital transformation has changed where and how many organizations manage and access core technologies. More and more CIOs are now taking on the strategic negotiation and oversight of cloud and digital solution providers rather than directly managing those teams.

For some CIOs used to working closely with internal IT teams, this might feel like a loss of influence and connection to technology. However, the potential and scope of cloud computing as well as other transformative technologies like AI, automation, block chain, and machine learning can and should be viewed as an opportunity to once again elevate the CIO role.

Today’s CIOs must be highly sophisticated strategists and brokers who can guide the organization’s technology investments, justifying their business value and aligning them with the company’s mission and strategy. They must be able to analyze, and address technology needs across the entire organization, from the external customers seeking world-class digitally driven experiences and support to the security, accessibility and performance needs of the internal organization.  Recently I spoke with the CIO of a leading research university who explained how important it has become for his team to embrace changing technology needs, be that cloud computing, social media, or whatever comes next. Rather than simply coaching his team to be open and ready for change, he took strategic action and created a separate group focused on managing technology advancements and adoption and integrating them organization’s overall Agile IT plan.

Threatened or emboldened by other IT roles?

As digital innovation now integrates with so many layers of the business, there are many more influencers around the leadership table. Rather than worrying about the influx of CSOs, CDOs, and other new strategic colleagues, CIOs should see each of these new leaders as leaders as collaborative partners. As tech-savvy leaders working together, they can identify innovative ways to use technology for competitive advantage, address IT labor shortages, break through departmental silos, and make digital assets work better for all employees and departments.

One highly effective strategy for partnering with fellow C-leaders includes dedicating time for regular planning and knowledge sharing events where business and tech leaders can evaluate what’s working along with new opportunities and technologies. CIOs will have valuable experience and perspective to share with data, digital and security leaders who will have business insights that can help CIOs better understand broad organizational demands on IT. In some organizations, job switching for a day or two is used to help leaders with overlapping responsibilities better understand their colleagues’ challenges and needs. However, it’s done, CIOs can and should become partners with leaders across the entire business, positioning themselves as influential experts who support and guide all technology efforts.

Shadow IT: shine or shrivel?

The 2018 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey found that two thirds of businesses today have more than 5% of their IT spend managed outside of the IT organization. For many years, IT projects managed outside of IT were reproachfully known as “shadow IT” and seen as a concerning trend that IT leaders needed to reign in. After all, tech needs to be managed and overseen by the experts, right?

Today, however, there is growing consensus from tech experts and users across the business, from marketing specialists driving social media engagement to data analysts diagnosing customer trends, that rather than constrain the technology ingenuity across the business, CIOs need to find ways to strategically fuel these initiatives. Because security, governance and support will always be issues that reach back to IT, a CIO’s strategy must be to make sure that the teams across the organization who are taking on new technology initiatives are willing to keep IT engaged for these types of issues.

One CIO I spoke with at a global media firm shared with me how shadow IT projects across his organization have made his team better, more skilled, and more focused on revenue. By putting pressure on IT to consider new purposes for technology and step outside their tech comfort zone, shadow IT can help IT organizations think differently and collaborate more strategically with teams across the business. And the more partnerships the IT organization builds across the business, the more budgets and strategic business work CIOs have influence over. That’s power too.

Choose influence & opportunity

For CIOs, technology is only one of the many transformations affecting their roles and spheres of influence. Those who want to see their influence grow rather than shrink need to look for opportunities and partners rather than losses and interlopers. CIOs need to embrace transformation as well as the people, technologies and changes that come with them.