A new breed of CIO

Mike Troy
Editorial Director
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It is impossible to overstate how much digital advances have impacted the retail and consumer good world. In turn, the impact on the C-suite is equally pronounced as all corporate officers need to have a deeper understanding of technology and the ability to envision potential applications to drive future growth. Senior executives may not need to code or know how to integrate complex systems, but the retailer whose senior executives are the most technologically astute is going to have a serious competitive advantage in the coming decade.

With increased technology aptitude now a requisite for senior executives, the bar has also been raised for CIOs who must possess skill sets very different from, but in addition to, what the role traditionally required. The big shift for CIOs involves a transition to the role as a revenue creator and exploiter of data as opposed to a role focused on project delivery, expense control and engineering processes. That is according to a landmark study conducted by Gartner in which the research and consulting firm surveyed 3,160 CIOs from 98 countries across all industry sectors. Although only 5% of respondents were from the retail industry the findings are applicable across industries.

“The CIO’s role must grow and develop as digital business spreads, and disruptive technologies, including intelligent machines and advanced analytics, reach the masses,” said Andy Rowsell-Jones, Vice President and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner. “While delivery is still a part of the job, much greater emphasis is being placed on attaining a far broader set of business objectives.”

Rowsell-Jones presented the research at Gartner’s annual Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando where roughly 7,500 attendees gathered for what the firm bills as the world’s most important gathering of CIOs and senior IT executives. In recognition of the changing technology world and increased expectations, the question he put to those in attendance was whether their company would hire them today for their same position. It is a fair question and caused a degree of introspection among tech executives coping with onrushing digital challenges and heightened expectations regarding data-enabled value creation and unrelenting threats.

The expectations of CIOs and senior IT executives are being driven by 10 critical trends (see page 18) identified by David Cearley, a Gartner Vice President and Fellow. Cearley analyzes emerging and strategic business and technology trends and how they shape the way value is derived from technology. He groups the 10 into three broad areas.

“The first element is intelligence. We are looking at trends that really are driving intelligence down into systems for more insightful, aware and autonomic types of systems. We are looking at the notion of digital. More autonomous and immersive environments that merge the real world and the virtual world together into this new digital reality,” Cearley said. “The third theme is the mesh. (The mesh is) a dynamic and secure set of connections. Connections between technology and services. Connecting to lots of data. Connecting people and businesses.”

Because of these changes, the CIOs Gartner surveyed were nearly unanimous (95%) in their view that their jobs will changed or be remixed due to digitalization. While world-class IT delivery management of IT projects is a given, it is expected to take up less of the CIO’s time. Survey respondents expect that the two biggest transformations in the CIO role will involve becoming change leaders, followed by assuming increased and broader responsibilities and capabilities. Inevitably, Gartner concludes from the survey results, the job of CIO will extend beyond the traditional delivery role to other areas of the business, such as innovation management and talent development.

The survey also showed that a majority of CIOs say that technology trends, specifically cybersecurity and artificial intelligence will significantly change how they do their jobs in the near future. Cybersecurity continues to threaten the global landscape in 2018, and 95% of CIOs surveyed said they expect cybersecurity threats to increase and impact their organization.

“In response to these concerns, the survey found that digital security ranks high on the CIO agenda as 35% percent of respondents said they have already invested and deployed some aspect of digital security, and 36% are in the process of planning to implement some form of digital security,” said Rowsell-Jones. “CIOs are also increasingly adopting AI in their organizations. Predominantly, AI is being used initially, either to boost the customer experience or to fight fraud.”

CIOs surveyed rank AI, followed by digital security and the Internet of Things (IoT), as the most problematic technologies to implement. The big reason why is that these technologies, particularly AI, demand new skills which are in short supply, which speaks to CIO’s view that an increasing amount of their time is spent on talent development.

Another key finding was that CIO’s listed as their top 2018 priority driving revenue with digitized products and services. This finding is particularly telling about how much the world of technology has changed the CIO’s role from implementation to value creator.

“CIOs are on the road from digital experimentation to digital scaling. However, a wall exists between those early digital experiments and pilots, and those that have achieved digital scale,” said Rowsell-Jones. “Perhaps the biggest brick in that wall is organizational culture. CIOs need to identify the cultural behaviors that currently exist and what the future state vision is. In doing so, they must recognize existing cultural strengths and position cultural change as ‘the next chapter,’ rather than a massive overhaul, to respect employees’ contributions and invite them to come along on the journey.”

The Gartner survey and research on digital changes highlight that the evolution of the CIO role is also evident in expectations around innovation and transformation. When asked about their success criteria, top CIOs report they are already close to the ideal split where more focus of their performance metrics is on business outcomes rather than IT delivery. The survey found that CIOs are spending more time on the business executive elements of their jobs compared with three years ago. In fact, CIOs from top performing organizations are spending up to four days more on executive leadership. The more mature an enterprise’s digital business is, the more likely the CIO will report to the CEO.

In a change from previous surveys, respondents were asked to name the top differentiating technologies compared to prior years when they were asked about investment levels. Business intelligence and analytics still retain the top spot on the list, with top performers most likely to consider them strategic.

“This new focus represents an opportunity for the CIO to become more deeply involved in this differentiating technology,” said Rowsell-Jones. “Data and insight drive the creation, delivery and life cycle of digital products and services. Flow of information in the context of user interactions leads to better engagement and value creation for all parties. Analytics connect the CIO and the IT organization to far-flung parts of the organization where they can cultivate new relationships.”

While the role of CIO varies across industries, by company size and country, the commonality is that the “I” in CIO still stands for information but top tech executives know it is their companies’ most valuable asset and they are expect to extract value from it. RL