As the CIO of Oxford Said Business School, Mark Bramwell\u2019s role was complex enough when the global pandemic moved thousands of students and staff to distance learning. Almost overnight there was a heightened need to drive innovation and reinvent business-as-usual.\n\n\u201cIt has felt that as a school, team, and personally, we have never worked harder in keeping the school operational in supporting its remote working, onsite, hybrid, and online learning and the new initiatives brought about by the pandemic,\u201d Bramwell says.\n\nWhen Tate and Lyle announced its intention to split the company in two last summer, with its commodity ingredients business to be owned and controlled by an equity firm, group CIO Sanjay Patel found himself not only at the heart of business separation activity but reimagining the value of IT.\n\n\u201cAs we've separated the companies now, the company that's left over, how important is technology going to be to drive that strategy?\u201d says Patel, a chemical engineer who turned consultant before his first steps into the CIO role.\n\n\u201cAm I going to be able to elevate the IT function and my role, whether it's me or someone else in that CIO role, where we can actually be an equal partner at the table?\u201d\n\nFor CIOs such as Bramwell and Patel, now is the time to reset their roles and responsibilities, redraw the boundary lines of what the job entails, and change the business\u2019s perception of IT to drive improved performance.\n\nCIO as strategic partner\n\nThe changing role of the CIO means it\u2019s a considerably different job from when it was first conceived in the 1980s. Today\u2019s CIO is still responsible for managing and implementing information technology systems and overseeing technology teams, but there\u2019s a greater focus on being strategic business partners, working alongside C-suite and line-of-business peers to drive business change and innovation.\n\nAccording to CIO\u2019s 2022 State of the CIO report, 86% of respondents see the CIO role as more digital and focused on innovation, with 84% characterizing the CIO as a critical changemaker, taking the lead on business and technology transformation.\n\nThe varied nature of the role means that CIOs must know the value they bring, their skills and deficiencies and where they can rely on internal and external expertise. Such is the role, Johnson Matthey\u2019s Paul Coby once joked, that the ideal CIO would combine the problem-solving of computer scientist Alan Turing, the storytelling of biologist and broadcaster David Attenborough, the leadership of revolutionary Nelson Mandela, the strategic vision of National Health Service innovator Aneurin Bevan and the computing skills of Ada Lovelace.\n\n\u201cSo, it\u2019s about the technical bits,\u201d Coby said, speaking at the 2021 Official CIO UK Summit. \u201cBut problem-solving, explaining complexity, bringing people together, and having a strategic business vision are as much about being a CIO as technical capabilities these days.\u201d\n\nIt could be argued that much of IT\u2019s success comes down to overcoming business language barriers as well as how the CIO positions themself in the organization. Many are clearly shifting the dial here, with 58% of line-of-business respondents to the State of the CIO survey describing their CIO as a strategic advisor, up from 28% in 2021.\n\nCIO as collaborator and co-creator\n\nStuart Hughes, chief information and digital officer (CIDO) at aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce believes that tech is the business and for that CIOs must become multi-disciplined leaders with a seat\u2014and voice\u2014at the C-suite table. They should be able to speak the language of business to the point where the company sees them as \u201cone of us\u201d, rather than \u201cone of them.\u201d\n\n\u201cPhilosophically, I believe that our role is to coach and support the individual business and functions to transform themselves, rather than be transformed by IT,\u201d Hughes says. \u201cThere is higher success when funding for IT Investment and change is sponsored by the organisation leading the overall transformation activity that the IT change sits within.\u201d\n\nHughes recalls a time when working at construction manufacturer JCB when he leaned into the teams working on asset tracking technology, helping them to create a vision for the product, a new proposition, and a video to demonstrate the opportunity and gain companywide support.\n\n\u201cWith a little funding and my ability to influence senior stakeholders, a whole new business line was born, and we developed a new group of supporters for wider digital transformation activities,\u201d Hughes said.\n\n\u201cOften, when leaders move on or responsibilities are realigned you will find yourself in a prime position to take a leadership role or additional responsibilities. This may seem a gentle way to gain influence or expand your role.\u201d\n\nCIO as an empathetic leader\n\nOne pandemic-era leadership lesson that might stick: The importance of putting people first.\n\nDan West, CDIO at the Department of Health for Northern Ireland, describes the notion of boundaries as \u201crelative\u201d as the UK\u2019s publicly funded health and care sector worked its way through COVID-19.\n\n\u201cWe got through Delta and Omicron was upon us,\u201d he said. \u201cIt felt never-ending and establishing boundaries was not a priority.\u201d\n\nFrom developing test, trace, and protect systems, to building vaccine deployment systems and vaccine rollouts, it\u2019s only now internal and external expectations can start to be changed. West is trying to get back to some normality, and away from unrealistic expectations and unsustainable intensity by revising arbitrary policies, treating staff with respect, and collectively being able to say no.\n\nThat last point chimes a chord with Jason James, CIO at Atlanta-based EHR software provider NetHealth: \u201cYou have to be willing to reset expectations\u2026.it might not be saying no, it might be saying yes, but here's when,\u201d he says.\n\nThe stresses and strains of the pandemic pushed CIOs to become more empathetic leaders, says James. \u201cHow do we keep people engaged, if four walls don't matter anymore? How do we make sure people have what they need? How are we focused on the soft skills? How do people feel right now? It is a very different role than two years prior.\u201d\n\n Rebranding IT for the new reality\n\nSome organizations have spent the last two years rebranding IT departments, particularly as they went digital-first and executives recognized the value that digital technologies could bring.\n\nVictoria Higgin, chief digital and information officer at National Highways (formerly Highways England), evolved her IT team from order-taker to business partner, with the 270-strong digital services team bolstered by a new business relationship. The London-based Financial Ombudsman Service\u2019s CIO Nicola Wadham made a similar move at the nonprofit, establishing the digital, technology, and data services group with a more service-led approach to IT delivery.\n\nTate and Lyle\u2019s Patel equated technology to a commodity like electricity, with a rebranding that shifted expectations of what IT can deliver. Information technology became digital enablement, business relationship managers are business partners, and project managers became technology enablers.\n\nTwinings Ovaltine\u2019s global CIO Sandeep Seeripat made his business-alignment goals plain, rebranding IT as BizTech.\n\n\u201cThis change emphasized the fact that we come to work to make and sell teabags and Ovaltine products before we are technologists. If there is any function in an enterprise that has no boundaries, it is IT,\u201d he says.