Are CIOs ready to ride the waves of post-Covid change to the very top?

11 Nov 2021

Are CIOs ready to ride the waves of post-Covid change to the very top?

They saved the day when lockdown changed the way we work, so could that prominence be the start of CIOs becoming even more influential in the boardroom?

The pandemic left no role unscathed by its impact. It was the greatest and fastest moving global crisis to ever confront business. But beyond how leaders had to react, adapt and learn, for many it changed their very roles. And no more so than the CIO.

Their role today is different in several dimensions. And promises a lot more.

In the words of the Wall Street Journal, “The Covid-19 pandemic has supercharged the role of chief information officers, accelerating a shift from backroom technicians to front-office decisionmakers, as companies’ operations are increasingly shaped by technology.” Suddenly, instead of presenting to the board a few times a year, they were there every week.

Change at speed

That change in relative importance and visibility began in the midst of the pandemic. CIOs were key to answering some very important questions. How do you quickly respond to the pandemic? How do you help people shelter at home, but still be able to work? What kind of infrastructure will allow us to work from different locations? Without CIOs, there would have been no work.

But of course, the questions do not stop there, there is the matter of how do you go forward and adapt? Forrester predicts that “remote work is here to stay — the number of remote workers at the end of 2021 will be 3x pre-pandemic levels.”

With work culture and employee experience forever changed, CIOs will be challenged to create new experiences in both the real and virtual worlds so that new talent is attracted, and existing talent stays thanks to a great employee experience.

CIOs had a major hand in reconfiguring supply chains, speeding up production automation, moving customer touchpoints online, reviewing and strengthening security, risk and governance, as the move to online opened up new vulnerabilities for hackers. Nor could they ignore their day job, namely the transformation programmes that were investing in high-value areas such as cloud, automation and AI.

At the heart of it all

All this has accelerated the CIOs journey closer to the heart of business strategy. It has reinforced what most CEOs and boards have realized: digital cannot be separated from business objectives.

Every company is a technology company. Some just do not know it yet.

Genpact's Sanjay Srivastava sees a critical step-change happening. In an interview with TechTarget, he explained that CIOs used to be about delivering value. A really important function, of course.

But the new role of the CIO is co-innovator, co-creating the new business model.

This new vision of the CIO will affect everything - skills, objectives for your organization and, quite naturally, the talent you hire. And this new-model CIO is what corporations and boards are looking for.

New demands for CIO and organizations

Taking a central position will demand several things of both the new CIO and the organization.

Firstly, CIOs will need to be multilingual, as fluent in concepts of business as they are in the language of technology. And not just them, we must ensure that other ‘non-technicals’ are up-to-speed on the fundamentals of cloud, automation, AI, and so forth.

This will only happen, Sanjay explained, in a culture of focused and intense learning.

If we accept that understanding that what you know today is most likely not what you need for the future, a company’s DNA should be rich in curiosity, humility, and a desire for a constant state of learning.

CIO to CEO?

Does this all sound like the CIO is really the model CEO of the future? That has been said more than once. CEOs and CIOs are already highly-aligned and expect technology leaders to take a prominent role in shaping business strategy in the next three to five years, according to a Deloitte survey.

In that research, high performing companies were twice as likely to have the CEO and CIO aligned to call technology “very important across all measured strategic goals,” than in low performing companies.

Perhaps with such alignment between the CEO and CIO role, more companies will recognize that CIOs make potentially great CEOs.

Importantly, through the pandemic CIOs have had to demonstrate that they do understand the people side of the business. Precisely because they have had to drive (and often transform the business to accommodate) remote working solutions.

Once again, the pandemic has not only brought a new challenge, but for the CIO that has also opened up a potential new pathway to the top.

If you want to discuss these issues and how they affect your organization, or perhaps want advice on your own career trajectory, please get in touch.