Leadership through technology – the changing role of the CIO

The traditional role of the CIO used to be associated with technical experts who focused on “keeping the lights on”

The traditional role of the CIO used to be associated with technical experts who focused on “keeping the lights on” – maintaining the stability of their organisation’s IT environment and meeting risk management and compliance requirements – but, in the latter half of the decade, as IT has become more strategic to the overall organisation, that role has both changed and expanded.

Leading analyst, Gartner, predicts that, by 2021, CIOs will be as responsible for culture change as chief HR officers.1 Another Gartner study found boards and CEOs are increasingly looking to the CIO for solutions in today’s heavily disrupted, uncertain market.2 How an organisation deals — or is prepared to deal — with “turns” and disruption will dictate how that organisation succeeds in the future, it said. 

In New Zealand, DXC Technology commissioned research found digital disruption is affecting two-thirds of the country’s organisations. However, thanks to the quality of IT leadership, 60 per cent of companies understand they have less than two years to integrate a digital initiative before the full impact of digital disruption hits.

“People have a certain experience of IT at home and in their personal lives, and they expect that same experience from the IT environments they work in, and the companies they interact with,” DXC Technology country leader for New Zealand, John Mazenier, said.

“The inspiration behind digital transformation is the need to change to become more user-centric in the face of disruption. CEOs see this as core to their strategy, and CIOs need to execute on this.”

The qualities of the modern CIO

Technical expertise is, of course, a cornerstone of the CIO’s role, however, today’s CIO also needs to have a range of other cross-business, strategic skills. They include:

  • Leadership –  Digital transformation projects are whole-of-business, and it is incumbent on the CIO to break down the silos within the organisation and drive change.
  • Business drive – CIOs are increasingly called on to present to the board and support the CEO’s vision for the company. It is important to have a broad understanding of business and an entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Willingness to learn – As a rapidly evolving part of the C-suite, a CIO needs to be open to new ideas and seek opportunities to broaden their skillsets.
  • Communication skills – The modern CIO needs to interact with leaders across all lines of business. Transformation initiatives will fall over if the CIO is unable to achieve buy-in from all parts of the business and understand how to implement change management programs.

The personal and professional qualities a CIO needs to have also means they are well-placed in the future to step up to the role of CEO, according to Mazenier.

“Being able to work with digital transformation and understand and address disruption as a driver and catalyst for change requires that an executive be digitally conversant, if not savvy,” he said. “Currently, a lot of board members and CEOs are not as digitally conversant as they should be, so they are looking to the CIO to show leadership in this area. That opens the pathway to the CIO to become the business leader if they so choose – and there are some high-profile cases of that happening in New Zealand.

“The country has a very flexible business environment. There is an innate ability to get stuck in and get things done. The business culture is very progressive in its willingness to adapt to change. That open-mindedness has put New Zealand’s businesses in a good position globally, as disruption continues to accelerate.”

Recognising the nations’ best

One area where New Zealand culture has traditionally not been so forward is in recognising its own successes, Mazenier said.

“We believe the ability to adapt, find opportunity, and change, grow, and thrive – both individually and within the organisation – is core to success in the modern environment. This is a role that all CIOs should have no reservations in taking on to help drive their companies forward, and it’s for this reason the CIO50 awards are important,” he said.

In celebrating IT – and now business – leaders in New Zealand’s CIO community, DXC Technology and the CIO50 awards is highlighting the ways CIOs are driving their business to become a successful disruptor in their sector.

1 https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-02-11-gartner-predicts-by-2021--cios-will-be-as-responsible

2 https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/the-gartner-2020-cio-agenda-winning-in-the-turns/

This story, "Leadership through technology – the changing role of the CIO" was originally published by CIO New Zealand.

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