There was a time when the CIO’s job was largely functional in nature: managing day-to-day crises, maintaining and improving IT operations, and controlling departmental costs. That corporate role, far from a glamorous one, was focused on being a service provider who kept the business IT infrastructure humming, while the rest of the C-Suite worked to grow the business’s bottom line.
Today, it’s a different story.
According to CIO.com’s State of the CIO: 2015 report, only 26% of CIOs consider their role a functional one, with their attention primarily on day-to-day operations. A full 52% of CIOs are spending more of their time aligning IT initiatives to business goals, cultivating business unit partnerships, and redesigning business processes with new systems and architectures. In fact, the report suggests, in three to five years a whopping 72% of CIOs expect their roles to be business strategists who are viewed by the CEO as a partner in defining the company’s future competitiveness.
In 3-5 years, most CIOs will be business strategists.
It appears that CIOs are moving out of the shadows and travelling up the “ladder of transformation” to increased business value and visibility.
What’s driving CIOs’ move from operational manager to strategist?
The major force driving this transformation is the rise of information security as a priority for the CIO’s boss, the CEO. According to the report, security concerns related to upgrading IT safeguards jumped from #8 to #4 in the CEO priority list. As a result of the number of confidence-shaking, high-profile data breaches in the headlines, such as Home Depot, Target, and Anthem, information security rose to #4 among the most important issues CEOs want their CIOs to address.
In the past, CEOs may have prioritized product launches or customer acquisition goals before security investments, yet today there is a 6% increase in focus on security management. This shift offers savvy CIOs an opportunity to partner on a large-scale initiative that the CEO already cares about. (Isn’t it nice when you don’t have to sell the C-Suite on a project you deem important?)
In 2015, upgrading IT and data security jumped from #8 to #4 in priority.
This represents a change. Only a few years ago, security was viewed as a functional requirement. Since then, data security has become a strategic initiative. CIOs need to stay in front of risks to retain customers (who have learned to fear the worst). And they must do so while they also respond to CEOs who want the business to better access, control, and use its data and intellectual property in a way that increases their market competitiveness.
The difference between functional and transformational CIOs
So what does it take for CIOs and other IT leaders to get a seat at the table with the C-Suite today? Much of what’s required is adopting business skills to identify and support high impact opportunities:
- Aligning with the CEO, CMO, and line-of-business managers on top business initiatives
- Identifying commercial opportunities by studying market trends and customer needs
- Driving business innovation with the right people, tools, and process
- Identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation
The sign that a CIO has arrived? When the business units and CEO view the IT organization as a business partner engaged in developing business strategy, not just enabling it. In that scenario, the organization sees IT as a key contributor to the enterprise’s competitive future. In other words, when the transition is complete, the CIO is more likely to wow the C-Suite by helping her company get ahead of the competition than simply keeping IT humming.
CIOs’ technology choices are following the same curve
Key to making the shift to transformative leadership are the CIO’s technology decisions. As CIOs modernize their IT infrastructure, they are replacing purely functional solutions based on legacy code bases with solutions that take advantage of new efficiencies such as better usability, cloud storage to save costs, and dynamic features that solve for bigger problems like data availability and governance that the C-Suite cares about.
A great example of this is endpoint backup. Historically, data backup for end user devices was seen as a low-level tactical concern, not worth the CIO’s time and attention. This perception is changing, given that a modern data protection software that incorporates endpoint backup better enables organizations to see stored data as a valuable asset. Beyond data protection, that data becomes part of a larger conversation incorporating data privacy, eDiscovery, and compliance challenges (which also satisfies the needs of the Legal and Compliance departments). In addition, the right backup solution can leapfrog multiple legacy solutions that do not meet the backup and archiving needs of today’s business.
Assess your position — and your technology choices — on the same value curve
The last thing any CIO or IT team wants to be seen as is someone who is purely functional and who serves as an obstacle to business success. CIOs who spend more of their time on strategic business activities, including those that contribute directly to revenue growth, are perceived as business leaders, or at least as partners. The same goes for technology choices. By choosing software that addresses challenges in data governance, the CIO can deliver on the promise of strategic partnership.
Where do you sit on the leadership curve? Are you picking the right technology solutions that align with CEO priorities?
Take a closer look at the business argument for online backup as an organization’s strategic transformation in this IDG paper: How a Modern Approach to Online Backup Can Address CIO Challenges.