The demanding role of the CIO

Chief Information Officers feel the pressure to deliver new digital services and technologies requested by their CXOs peers (CEO, CFO, CMO, COO,…).

Traditionally, we see three main requirements to their role:

  • innovate and introduce IT to support new business
  • improve their current IT services to meet new demands
  • deliver and support sustainable IT services that are agile and cost-efficient.

In today’s digital business environment, the CIO role enjoys a broad and deep impact potential. To get rid of the three above mentioned expectations, what should the CIO aim for? Is it a Chief Digital Officers position (CDO)? Or an evenly difficult role as Chief Innovation Officer (CINO)? Or is there another option?

Some see Chief Digital Officers as a transient position, created for the relatively short-term mission of catalyzing adoption of digital business models and thus to disrupt a company’s traditional approach to business. For them the CDO is not here to stay, however he could evolve to a CEO position for the newly created business model with a high level of understanding of these digital business models. Considering that only the major top 100 companies are assigning a CDO strenghtens our view that the firms just below this top 100 cannot afford themselves an extra C-level executive in the board that competes with the CEO.

What about the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO)? Personally, I like this role, because it touches both processes, in which most CIO's are experienced, as well as it touches new business models including its relation to IT. But while CIO's could be effective in formalizing an IT innovation pipeline and process, IT innovation is then just one straight path leading to the goal of business transformation. Rather than the straight path, a CIO should be able to manage the road map that include all innovations to become a CINO.

That roadmap brings us to the third alternative: some market guru’s see a role for a Chief Transformation Officer. The "chief of transformation" goes by many titles - CTO, not to be mistaken with the former Chief Technology Officer, VP of Business Transformation, and more. This is an executive-level authority that drives and governs the business strategy for – continuous - transforming the business model, its products/services, customer experience, internal organization structures and processes. The CTO can be powered by innovations from IT, but also from marketing or from new distribution or production techniques.

Should the CIO be the new CTO? No, but since both functions are highly dependent of each other, given the relatedness and rapid changes within IT and business there must be a close collaboration. Because so much of the CIO’s traditional responsibilities are now virtualized with nearly everything as a Service (XaaS), the CIO is free. Free to focus on innovation and become a CINO. Game-changing products and service innovations can be more easily identified when continuous transformation is a business necessity. With the CINO focused on how to optimally use information and latest technologies, the CTO can then use these insights to transform processes, products and services and to implement the new business innovations.