The Changing CIO Role


What does a transformation-ready CIO look like, and how can a CEO make sure they get one?

Without question, COVID-19 brought CIOs to the executive table if they weren’t already there. The open question is just how many were ready. For those that weren’t ready, how does their perception of their role need to change to gain business relevance? And for the vanguard, how can they make sure a potential new employer wants what they deliver?

Let’s start there and then look at what a transformation ready CIO looks like and how a CEO can make sure they get one.

Should a CIO Apply?

CIOs say there are a number of red flags that can be found in a job description. These include:

  • The job reports to a CFO.
  • The job is a list of technical qualifications.
  • The job says the CIO must be proficient in Microsoft Office.
  • The job is a generic description cut/paste from the internet.
  • The job states a degree in computer science is either required or desired.
  • The job asks for a laundry list of technical knowledge or tech words.

CIOs suggest that a job description with the above items is for a tech job not for a modern CIO job. Former CIO Isaac Sacolick says, “The big issue is when there’s misalignment in the leadership team on goals and responsibilities. You can see this in job descriptions that do not have a focus or seem to include the kitchen sink.”

Former CIO Wayne Sadin adds, “While I have reported to two brilliant CFOs during my 30 years as a CIO, CFO reporting isn’t optimum. However, any CIO job description that includes the term ‘technical debt’ would rise to the top of my good list. I would love to work for a CEO and board of directors that know they have a problem.”

Given this, a good CIO job description should be focused on how the role helps the business provide value, and support business goals. The underlying “keeper of the lights” should always be assumed. Dennis Klemenz, CIO of Connex Credit Union, says, “If the role reports to the CEO, you will be doing interesting stuff. If it reports to the CFO, you will be hounded for nickels. If it reports to the COO, you will be automating workflows for the rest of your life.”

So, Miami University CIO David Seidl says, “make sure that the skills that are required are strategic, that it reports to the CEO, and that there is a vision for the role. The fact is, language says a lot about whether the organization gets the modern CIO role.”

Related Article: How Can CIOs Manage Strategy Through Uncertainty?

How Has the CIO Job Changed in the Last 5 Years?

Today’s successful organizations recognize CIOs are part of the business. A key skill for a CIO is being able to act as a universal translator between the business and the technology parts of the organization. Good CIOs understand business challenges and translate them so the technology side understands what value is expected. Michigan State University CIO Melissa Woo attests, “The job should have transitioned from plumber to strategist in the last five years, though I think we can acknowledge that there’s still work to do in socializing the need for this transition.”

Seidl agrees and says, “The CIO role today is a strategic job. It’s often outward focused, with teams keeping things running inside. We are at the cabinet level or leadership team level and participating as leaders, not as a utility and service provider.” Clearly, forward-thinking organizations see the CIO representing technology as a full business partner.

What Expertise Should Be in the CIOs Toolkit?

CIOs have a big list of skillsets and expertise. Here are some of the most important:

  • Ability to influence
  • Social and emotional intelligence
  • Implementing culture change
  • Leading innovation
  • Communications
  • Bridging diverse stakeholders
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy
  • Energy
  • Risk management

First CIO Deb Gildersleeve says, “it is very difficult to transform an organization or lead innovation without the above skills.” Seidl adds, “People are the most complex technology element in our stack. Building teams, enabling them to succeed, supporting them through change and challenges are critical. Leading in ways that align with the organization’s culture can be huge, too, although changing culture can be good.”

Related Article: CIOs: Time to Sense Transformational Needs, Create Agility



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