by Chris Potts

Next-generation CIO: depends which one you already are

Oct 02, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

CIOs are in any one of four generations, and a company and their CIO need to generationally match.

It’s hard to open an IT-related publication at the moment without seeing an article or advert about the ‘next generation’ (or in one case ‘new breed’) of CIO.

Some offer an insight into what they see as the existing generation of CIO and therefore the generational shift they are proposing.  An advert in a current publication is an example of one that does.  It talks about the CIO “moving beyond a service role and becoming a true innovation architect”.  In keeping with some other observers, it’s envisaging that the CIO role’s destiny is to emerge as a ‘chief innovation officer’.

This particular example helps to highlight four significant features of the CIO landscape that are highly relevant to ‘next-generation’ conversations.   

Firstly, there are four generations of CIO, with strategies to match, and around the world there are incumbent CIOs who represent each of these generations.  So the next generation of CIO, and strategy, depends on which one you are already.

Secondly, moving the CIO from a ‘service role’ to a ‘true innovation architect’ – for example – is a significant journey for the organization as a whole, not just the CIO.  An organization’s CIO, and the strategy she represents, plays a significant part in the company’s management structure and investment culture.  A next-generation CIO will only succeed in a next-generation-CIO-company. 

Next is the ultimate destiny of the role.  The ‘true innovation architect’ or ‘chief innovation officer’ is a much more limited role than most CIOs already hold.  Most things that happen in an organization are not innovations.  It’s hard to see why companies and CIOs would want to limit the CIO role’s future contribution and influence to just these, when CIOs are currently contributing to business innovations and everything else.

Finally, some CIOs are simply fantastic at the generation they currently are.  Some can switch between generations more easily than others. Attempting to be a ‘next generation’ CIO can potentially wreck both the CIO’s own career and the value she adds to her company.  Different organizations need different generations of CIO, and always will.  It is better to be a fantastic second-generation CIO, for example, than struggle to be any of the other three. 

So, in strategic conversations about the role of the CIO it’s worth remembering that current CIOs are in any one of four generations, and that a company and their CIO need to generationally match.   To underscore this point, organizations frequently recruit a new CIO explicitly to shift the company to a different generation in its ability to exploit technology.  Temporarily, there is a deliberate mismatch between the company and its CIO, and the CIO’s strategic purpose is to bring the company’s IT-related management and culture into the generation she represents. 

Note:  there’s a high-level summary of the four generations of CIO strategy, and the ultimate destiny of the CIO at  Some practical approaches for evolving the role of the CIO within a company are covered in my columns Let the Business Drive IT Strategy, Why You Shouldn’t Have and IT Budget, The Limits of Running IT Like a Business, and Tools for Leading Business Change.