The Ever-Evolving Role of the CIO

A VIEW FROM THE TOP

Technology has dramatically changed every aspect of the business world, compelling companies to quickly adapt to change in order to remain viable and drive growth.

“The world of the CIO is not only becoming more complex, the demands on the CIO and the importance of the roles that they play are increasing.”

This new tech landscape—with a shift in focus from traditional IT operations to big data, cloud computing and analytics—has arguably impacted the role of the CIO more than any other business position.

A recent survey from IT staffing firm Modis found that the role of the CIO is rapidly changing: Not only do the vast majority of companies view their CIOs as critical members of a company’s structure, they expect their responsibilities to grow in the future.

“The world of the CIO is not only becoming more complex, the demands on the CIO and the importance of the roles that they play are increasing,” says Mandy Edwards, chief information officer at CBRE.

“I think the expectations of boards is that the CIOs are equal partners with their businesses and inspire them to think about technology in very different ways than they had in the past. The CIO is becoming a catalyst for change as organizations embrace technology into every aspect of what they do.”

Jack of all trades

This ever-evolving role essentially requires CIOs to wear several hats: innovator, technologist and business leader with experience across departments and disciplines.

How to keep costs down while simultaneously moving the company forward is an ongoing challenge for CIOs, says Martha Heller, an IT and CIO executive recruiter who wrote the book, The CIO Paradox.

“As CIO, you’re always in the position of financial gatekeeper and saying ‘no’ a lot because of budgetary concerns, and all of a sudden you’re expected to turn on a dime and become this big picture innovator who is thinking outside of the box,” Heller says.

“It’s about having the foundational business experience to be able to help mold and develop and innovate for the company beyond just the use of the technology.”

In an EY study that surveyed more than 300 CIOs about their evolving roles—The DNA of the CIO—87 percent said they do a good job at helping businesses meet their technological challenges, but many also indicated they wanted a high-level, strategic role within the company.

“CIOs want to move away from being seen as a mere support function, and toward a stronger role as an innovative and transformative part of the business. At a high level, underlying technological shifts, such as the move to the cloud and the ongoing consumerization of IT, provide a compelling opportunity to reshape the image of IT—and the role of the CIO,” the report states.

Edwards says having cross-functional business knowledge, including a few years in sales and marketing, has made her a more effective CIO.

“It’s about having the foundational business experience to be able to help mold and develop and innovate for the company beyond just the use of the technology,” Edwards says.

Harnessing big data

With CIOs positioned at the nexus of the information flowing in and out of a company, the rise of big data puts them in the important and sometimes precarious position of being the keeper of that data: harnessing it, maximizing its value and leveraging it across the company. Like many companies, CBRE is embarking on a data strategy.

“If you’re going to start leveraging something that’s traditionally been very benign into something of high value, you have to make sure that it’s extremely accurate and readily available to the people who need it to make decisions to support their clients,” says Edwards.

Doing so means companies have to define new governance practices on how this data is going to be leveraged, how it is going to be used to support insight, and how it is going to encourage people to take action on important business decisions, she adds.

Safety is key

But as the value of data increases, so too does the responsibility of protecting it. We have all seen the famous brand name companies who have fallen victim to data breaches, and cyber attacks are only expected to rise. Any company, regardless of its size or stature, is susceptible.

“In the world of the CIO, everything’s changing every day.”

“With all the emphasis on cybersecurity, you cannot afford to not be knowledgeable, aware and have the right people around you that can ensure that you’re mitigating risk and exposure,” says Edwards.

The alarming number of security breaches is also further evidence that it’s more important than ever to have business leaders who can adapt quickly to change and be proactive in times of crisis.

“In the world of the CIO, everything’s changing every day,” says Edwards. “There’s rarely a dull moment.”

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