by Jen A. Miller

How the CIO Role Is Changing As Business Needs Evolve

News Analysis
Oct 06, 20145 mins
Business IT AlignmentCIOIT Leadership

A decade ago, the typical CIO was concerned mostly with IT infrastructure. Today's CIO faces a bevy of additional challenges, namely user desires for mobility and the cloud. There's an upside, though: Helping users get what they need makes CIOs more visible to the rest of the business.

A recent survey from IT staffing firm Modis reaffirms what we all know: The role of CIOs, and the IT department they direct, is changing. Not only do the vast majority of companies view their CIOs as critical members of company structure, they also expect that role to grow in the future.

“With tech being more and more on the forefront of businesses, we were interested to find out, where is the CIO seat now, where is his relationship and does he have the same kind of impact other C-level people have?” Modis President Jack Cullen says.


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For its survey, Modis interviewed 500 U.S.-based CEOs and business leaders. It found that 93 percent trust their IT senior leader and say that the CIO hires the right talent for the business. Modis also found that 98 percent of business leaders and CEOs think their CIOs adequately articulate what the IT department does for those companies, as well as what roles IT plays in other departments.

Only 7 percent of CEOs and business owners believe their IT departments don’t meet expectations. Half of companies surveyed expect to increase their company’s IT budgets in 2015.

The role of the CIO has been more on the forefront of public perception of a company, too, for better or for worse. For better, more CIOs are jumping into CEO roles. For worse, in the fallout of the Target data breach, CIO Beth Jacobs resigned, though CEO Gregg Steinhafel fell on his sword not long after.

Changing CIO Role Result of Tech’s Influence on Business

The duties of the CIO have changed in the last decade, says Steve Durbin, managing director of Information Security Forum. “Ten years ago, these guys were worrying about things like the mainframe computer,” he says. “They didn’t have people like you and me – users who would suddenly decide they’re going to use their iPhone or tablet to access information.”

Part of the reason for the increased CIO role is that the power shifted away from IT and into the hands of the end users, whether they were customers or employees of the company. Mobile, BYOD and cloud-based computing created new challenges for IT departments, and will continue to do so. As security issues have increased, so, too, has the role of the CIO in determining the best course of action to protect the company’s customers and employees.

The relationship with the CEO and board of trustees has changed as well. “The CIO would rarely have met with a CEO because they didn’t really have much to do in the way of the business being run,” Durbin says. “Today, of course, [CIOs] have much more say in what’s going on.”

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This means that successful CIOs must be much more aligned with their company’s business than they were a decade ago. This means “interpret[ing] the status of their infrastructures,” Durbin says, as well as their capabilities to adapt and respond to changing laws and business regulations.

Durbin cites the example of two U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies planning BYOD programs in Europe. One company’s CIO raised concerns about the BYOD policy, and the rollout has been slow. The other CIO had no problems, so it happened quickly.

This increased business savvy shows that the CIO has become “somewhat of a different breed” in the last five to 10 years, Cullen says. “You’re starting to see a big morph in the kind of person ascending to the CEO seat coming from the CIO world.”

As the role of the CIO has changed, what companies look for in a CIO has changed, too, says Chris Patrick, global lead for Egon Zehnder‘s CIO practice. “The demand for the CIO is to be much more of an influencer, a shaper, a business strategizer, than it has ever been.”

It’s been a quick change, too. “By definition, this function is relatively young,” Patrick says. “Contrast it to CFOs, which have been around since the double ledger.”

Today, he says, the CIO “influences and impacts every part of what we do” as a business. That also means finding the right CIO has become a challenge. Companies want someone who understands both the technology landscape and the business implications of technology.

“The role is evolving rapidly and [has] fundamentally shifted from where it started to a role that is much more business-focused, much more demanding,” Patrick says, adding that a lot of CIOs “who grew up in this function are ill prepared [or] unprepared to address” this new skill set.

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The high demand for these kinds of executives has driven up the price of acquiring top CIO talent.

“Look at what’s happening to the Targets and the [Home] Depots,” Patrick says. No CEO wants to be next. “Target would probably be the first to say, ‘We’d spend almost anything'” if it could have prevented or reduced the impact of the data breach, he says.