Roundtable examines stark differences in a CIO’s role today versus the past

A recent roundtable organized by The IT Media Group explored the “rapidly evolving” role of the chief information officer (CIO), which ultimately means incumbents must acquire new skills and implement different strategies.

The core argument was this: The modern CIO must approach the business of IT differently, by helping to enable a digital enterprise and develop the next generation of diverse leaders.

Panel members Paul Lewis, chief technology officer (CTO) at Pythian, who facilitated the workshop, John Comacchio, senior vice president and CIO at Teknion and Julie Hansen, vice president and global executive advisor at Salesforce Canada, delved into several topics ranging from modern expectations of the CIO to how best to orchestrate a digital enterprise.

“Why is this discussion so important?” Lewis asked. “Because we think there’s a problem? Well, we have a few problems, right? There’s a gap between the skill set of modern CIOs and the next in the ranks. There’s an expectation of current CIOs that was never there in the past, and the longevity of CIOs – well, they were already short to begin with, and now they’re a little shorter.”

There is an evolution going on with the profession, and to that end, Lewis asked both co-panelists how the role of the CIO has changed during the past five years.

“Five years ago, when I worked with assorted CIOs and companies in general, they were in a very traditional type of role,” said Hansen. “It was very operational focused, there was a specific set of responsibilities and ways that communications happen in order to be efficient and effective, and to make sure everyone has the tools in place, and the company is running from a technology perspective.”

Since then, she added, there has been an evolution towards more of a business type of role, “more of a strategic role, more awareness around finance, and what’s going on with the company in general, and an evolution to be much more involved with the executive leadership team (ELT), than in past years.”

That pace of change, said Hansen, occurred so fast that it caught “some organizations and some individual leaders off guard.”

“I very much echo exactly what Julie’s saying,” said Comacchio. “I think the CIO generally in the past has been dictated by technology.  If you go right back to the mainframe, they were leading the enterprise through the adoption of technologies.

“Today’s CIO must have an informed opinion of the business and a much deeper understanding of it than they had in the past.”

According to a document issued to webinar attendees after the event, the traditional role of the CIO broadly includes project oversite, data centre/infrastructure operations, data handling, security, and people management.

Today’s CIOs, however, “must be business strategists who understand how to apply technology to achieve business results,” the executive summary produced by IT Media Group stated. “Furthermore, with 84 per cent to 86 per cent of technology spending controlled outside of IT, CIOs must work with many different leaders across the organization to deliver the IT projects the business needs.”

There is expanded involvement with an “executive leadership team and the board. This connection includes working directly with the CEO to ensure that the technology portfolio keeps up with the pace of change.”

They must also, it noted, develop roadmaps that “achieve the organization’s strategic goals and have the ability to communicate the impact of the plans to senior leadership.”

“The CIOs that I see really being innovative and strategic in a company, they’re very much in lockstep with what the CEOs’ goals are, and that’s not always been the case in the past,” said Hansen.

When it comes to digital transformation (DX) initiatives, said Comacchio, the “CIO must be the champion, and really do the translation of how this is going to work. Also because we look horizontally through the business, we know where the data gaps are, and we know what the process gaps are. We also understand where the capabilities lie, either strong or weak, within certain groups that will hinder this because, again, passive resistance is one of the biggest issues around digital transformation.”

In addition to the speakers, the session also included a series of poll questions, including one that asked those in attendance to describe their IT organization. Results revealed a 50-50 per cent split between a traditional cost centre model and modern innovation model.

“Five years ago, most IT organizations categorized themselves as a traditional model, viewing IT as a cost center reporting to the chief operating officer (COO) and focusing on operational excellence,” the document stated.

“However, the poll taken during the workshop indicates an inflection point in the dynamic between cost and innovation. About half of organizations now view innovation and digital transformation as strategic enablers for their business. As a result, we can expect the transition to an innovation model to accelerate.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. He has extensive experience as a reporter, feature writer and editor and has been covering technology-related issues for more than 30 years.

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