• Digital Transformation

The Evolving Role of the CIO: From Chief Information Officer to Chief Innovation Officer

By: Renée Lahti |
Chief Information Officer

I’ve served as CIO of various companies and in disparate industries. I’m often asked how the role of the CIO has evolved as technology’s velocity of change is ever-increasing and the conversation has become more and more commoditized and consumerized.

I’ve seen a continued extinction of the traditional role of the CIO. Historically, the CIO was responsible for corporate technology, relevant strategy, and of course, day-to-day operations and implementations. Rightly or wrongly, there is still a stereotype that the CIO is someone who sits in the C-suite but is a very technology-forward, back-office-first and process-heavy executive, with little business skills and acumen. And as a result, her organization is perceived as an operational, reactive one that supports technology.

Not anymore. With the rise of the digital business and the exponential increase in data, the boundaries and silos between business and technology are rapidly diminishing – chief information officers need to become chief innovation officers, a role that connects technology and business. Any CIO who doesn’t evolve her skills to drive business-level value and clings to the stereotype will soon be in the minority, and will wake up to find that she is living in the era of culottes and Members Only jackets. CIOs must be more engaged with the business and help drive the innovation that makes the difference between success and irrelevance, both for themselves and their organization.

Today, CIOs, whether we embrace it or not, are in the bull’s-eye of our company’s business success. Keeping the lights on and core systems running still fall on the CIO’s shoulders, but it needs to be looked at with a different lens. A great example of this is AIOps. Everything we do will directly drive the strategic direction of the company. True to the Forbes’ prediction, in 2018, we see our CIO role evolved. Boards of Directors, CEOs and COOs are engaged in conversations that involve technology. These are conversations contemporary CIOs should be having because they will be the ones directing the drivers of business innovation and opportunity.

And, as a result, everything CIOs do must be outcome-based – it’s not what we do, but rather what results are achieved. What is the right digital answer for the company’s specific strategic needs? What can IT do to boost the company up to a higher level of efficiency, profitability, or to bring the company to the next emerging market?

With the rise of data breaches, our role is also more focused than ever on information security. There is no better – or more important – time to be secure with the need to drive digital. The good news is that digital transformation gives us CIOs (and our teams) the ability to manage with predictive analytics. Then we are not just looking in the rearview mirror to see if we can remember something that happened in the past that can help us with the current issue. Now, CIOs should depend on things like machine learning and the integration of IT and OT data to extend their capabilities to support digital.

Today’s role of a CIO involves a deep partnership with all lines of business and ensuring her team is connected more than ever with the business – working cross-functionally on a daily basis, solving problems together to derive the best value to the business in a timely manner. For me there has never been a more exciting time to be a CIO. In 2018, it is “cool” to be a leader of IT.

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