Steady or ready? The next five years will separate the CIOs who can make change from those who will be the victims of it.

23 May 2022

Steady or ready? The next five years will separate the CIOs who can make change from those who will be the victims of it.

Merely steadying the technology ship after a spate of Covid investment will only be part of the job if CIOs are to take their potential places at the top table.

As they emerge from Covid, CIOs are ensuring that the massive wave of pandemic-era digital investments are fully optimized and definitely delivering significant value for the business.

That pivot back to foundational IT work was reflected in CIO.com’s 2022 State of the CIO research.

It revealed that functional tasks consumed a large part of the CIO agenda this year, cited by 84% of survey respondents

Top tasks included security management, improving IT operations and systems performance, and controlling costs and expense management.

Unlike last year when business strategy took precedence for 67% of respondents,  in 2022 there was less time spent time on activities such as driving business innovation, developing strategy, or identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation.

The vast majority of  IT leaders surveyed this year were concentrating on transformational responsibilities. They were modernizing infrastructure and applications, aligning IT initiatives with business goals, and cultivating the IT/business partnership.

CEOs were all for these priorities. Not surprisingly , they wanted to be sure that those years of technology investment  were properly aligned with their ideas of operational excellence while ensuring digital initiatives are running on all cylinders and delivering the proper business outcomes.

Beyond the basics

But for some CIOs and CEOs, the picture is different. Yes, they aren’t ignoring the basics, but they are more ambitious.

For these CIOs, having tech expertise and skills are just the beginning. Over the next three to five years, tech leaders (and their CEOs) will look to instigate and co-create business value in conjunction with other functions. And technology will play a pivotal role in delivering this change.

As has been said all too often, whatever your business  sector these days, to succeed, you will need to be a tech business.

Naming something new

As Larry Quinlan, Global CIO of Deloitte explains in their CIO report,  the role of a technology leader is not to develop a digital strategy or vision—it is to embed digital in the business strategy.

Interestingly, it’s driving the question ‘so what’s a CIO anyway?

And what should this new role be best called?

Katja Hartert, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany explains: "Chief digital and technology officer (CDTO)? Chief information technology officer (CITO)? Chief information and digital officer (CIDO)? Or Chief technology and operating officer (CTOO)? It’s all an attempt to capture this new role’s reality. No longer the tech chief, but the co-creators of products and services, or the prime drivers of innovation."

As Forbes points out, at the end of the day, what matters most isn’t the job titles, but rather who they report to. If it’s not the CEO or at a very senior deputy, then their influence will not be great, and their power to influence things diminished.

Not for everyone 

However ambitious, shifting focus to business innovation may not be easy for many tech leaders. They will have to conquer obstacles like legacy environments, talent shortages, and lack of business leadership and prioritization processes The latter is key, joining an organization that sees technology as simply a tool means they will never commit to what it takes to unleash technology’s potential for transformational change.

CEOs are looking for leaders who can guide their organizations through what are likely to be times of quite severe change.

Potential CIOs will be well-regarded if a CEO sees that you have experience with change and transformation projects. For example, experience at a startup, venture capital, or private equity firm, leveraging external services providers to drive innovation, and, probably the most convincing advertisement of all, hard evidence that you have successfully delivered a large transformation project.

Collaborate and influence

Naturally, you don’t make significant change on your own, even if it is in your job title.

The tech leaders who will flourish will have the soft skills and abilities to develop stronger relationships with their C-suite colleagues. Furthermore, you will need to be an influencer who can bring people together and move them in the right direction, even if the journey has a few bumps along the way.

Business strategy first

CIOs will need to understand that the focus for them is much more on business strategy then digital strategy as they  interact with other business leaders.

Technology will be a byproduct rather than the focus of their conversations.

And when it comes to hiring and developing talent, successful tech leaders will be looking for team members with emotional intelligence, empathy, and active listening more high proficiency in artificial intelligence, analytics, and the Internet of Things.

This will perhaps be one of their greatest challenges. Winning and retaining talent is the current battleground that CIOs are engaged in, and is likely to continue as Raconteur reminds us.

"CIOs with the vision and the ability to go beyond what their CEOs are asking of them will be valuable partners", adds Emanuel Pfister, Associate Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

If they can’t raise their heads from a post-Covid focus that is simply ‘steadying the ship’, so to speak – however important this is - CIOs might well find themselves overtaken by those with the mindset that welcomes a much more transformational role. And that is a prospect that no ambitious CIO will want to experience.

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