The role of a CIO

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the executive in charge of a company’s IT function. They are tasked with defining the technology strategy and overseeing the operations of infrastructure, computing systems and other technology required to support the organization’s unique goals and business objectives. The role of CIO is one of the most challenging executive positions in modern companies. The CIO must understand the technology in use by the company today and where technology trends are going. They must also understand the company’s business strategy and market dynamics in order to advise business leaders on technology investment choices.

Because modern IT environments are complex, yet critical to business operations, the CIO must also take an active role in risk management, security and compliance issues to ensure that technology decisions do not cause the company to become vulnerable to physical, cyber or financial risk. Modern CIOs find themselves spending a considerable amount of time on these issues, both in implementing strategy through policies as well as responding to critical vulnerabilities and major incidents.

The CIO does not manage the IT function alone. They are typically supported by a management team with individuals appointed to oversee various aspects of the company’s technology environment and IT operations. With the diverse nature of modern technology and the complexity involved in keeping everything running smoothly, the CIO relies heavily on their team of IT managers to work together to manage day-to-day operations. Often referred to as the IT leadership team, this group of managers direct the activities of technical staff, make procurement decisions and direct the organization’s technology resources to best align with business needs.

The difference between a CIO and CTO

Some companies have two executives appointed to oversee technology matters. Though their job titles may seem to imply redundancy, the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) are quite different. The CIO is typically focused on the use of technology to support internal business operations while the CTO is typically concerned with the use of technology in the products and services that the company delivers into the marketplace.

There are two key areas where the CIO and CTO role may overlap, requiring either more clearly defined job charters or collaboration between the technology executives. Those areas are technology usage in the supply chain and technology related to customer engagement (eCommerce, customer support, distribution, etc.).

Technology usage in the supply chain

Supply chain and manufacturing processes in most companies are highly automated and instrumented in order to give the company fine-grain control over the processes and flow of materials that are refined into the products sold to customers. While manufacturing is an internal business process (as is supply chain management), technology decisions in this area can have a large impact on the quality and profitability of the company’s products. The CTO will typically be involved in guiding technology selection decisions related to manufacturing and supply chain while the CIO likely will oversee how the technology is managed and how information gathered from the supply chain process is used in the context of other business processes.

Technology used for customer engagement

Similar to supply chain processes, most companies have leveraged technologies to modernize their customer engagement experiences. In many instances, the technology is so embedded in the experience of both selling products and services and supporting the customer after the sale, most customers now blend their perceptions of product quality with those of the sales experience. It is for this reason that the CTO is often involved in technology decisions relating to customer engagement – ensuring that the customer experience is consistent between operational processes and the products themselves. CIOs, on the other hand, are concerned with the impact of customer engagement technology on employee productivity and the use of customer information to drive business decisions.

Most modern companies would benefit from both a CIO focused on internal technology use and a separate CTO focused on the use of technology in products, services, and customer experiences. These two roles work best if the executives have a strong and collaborative working relationship and understand where their individual areas of responsibilities overlap and require enhanced collaboration.

CIO Responsibilities

The CIO has a diverse set of job responsibilities, both technical and strategic. They are the executive bridge between the IT function and business leaders. At the strategic level, the CIO is responsible for:

1. Creating business value for the company through technology

2. Directing the use of company IT resources to achieve the company’s strategic objectives

3. Ensuring IT systems are managed appropriately to manage cost, risk and enable business agility

The CIO’s strategic responsibilities are no different than any other executive tasked with leading an internal business function (manage the resources under your control to maximize business value). What makes the CIO’s role different from other executives is the scale of dependencies that must be managed in the IT supply chain and the breadth of cross-functional relationships that must be maintained to keep IT aligned with other business functions. At the operational level, the CIO is responsible for:

  • Personnel management of staff in the IT function
  • Negotiating vendor and supplier relationships
  • Overseeing IT architecture
  • Defining IT policies, standards and governance processes
  • Information risk management (IRM)
  • Managing IT spending and investment decisions
  • Capacity and technology lifecycle management
  • Understanding technology trends and their applicability to business objectives
  • Major Incident Management communications with executives and stakeholders
  • IT compliance with governmental regulations (Sarbanes Oxley, GDPR, etc.)
What does a CIO do?

There is no such thing as an average or typical CIO. Every role is different, and every day is different in the life of a CIO. In addition to planned meetings, conversations and activities, the CIO often plays an important role in managing major incidents – both with the technology systems and with internal IT operations. Some examples of the types of crisis and incidents that a CIO would be involved in include:

The primary role of the CIO in these situations is impact mitigation, re-allocating resources and managing communications with executives. As the executive in charge of the IT function, the CIO is tasked with managing the crisis and re-assuring all stakeholders that the situation is under control

Who does the CIO work with?

On average, a CIO spends about 25% of their time working with other executives on issues of corporate and business strategy. They spend about 25% of their time collaborating with business leaders on the role technology will play in supporting business processes. They spend about 30% of their time working with their IT leadership team to direct IT investments and the activities of IT staff. The remaining 20% of the CIO’s time is spent engaging with industry analysts, peers in other companies, customers and other external stakeholders in order to better understand industry trends and new technology developments.

While the CIO is the figurehead of the IT organization, it is the support staff in the “office of the CIO” that enable the executive to be effective. A CIO will typically have a small team of experienced professionals helping him/her manage the various facets of their role. Typical job titles in the office of the CIO include:

Many CIOs also have data analysts that assist them in compiling and summarizing operational data into executive dashboards and reports that are used to help the CIO and other executives understand technology performance, cost, capacity, risk and other operational issues. Data-driven decision making is a critical part of CIO effectiveness. Data analysts within the office of the CIO enable the executive to see what’s going on within their organization (and within the business) – directing their focus to areas in need of attention.

What skills does an effective CIO need to have?

Most CIOs have a technical background, with a degree in fields like Computer Science, Computer Engineering or Information Systems. Many also have advanced degrees such as an MBA or a Masters in Computer Science. In addition to technical education, most CIOs also have 20-30 years’ experience in the IT field managing various aspects of technology environments. Recently, an increasing number of CIOs have been appointed with experience in Information Security and Risk Management – emphasizing the importance companies are placing on this aspect of the CIO’s role.

While the CIO must have enough technical knowledge and experience to understand both current and emerging technology issues, they must also have strong management and executive leadership skills. IT plays a critical strategic role in modern companies and increasingly, the CIO is looked to not only as a technology leader but also a business leader. Management and leadership abilities of a CIO often come down to soft skills – these are what differentiate a competent CIO from a successful CIO

Very few technologists are able to evolve into highly effective CIOs because developing the required soft-skills and leadership experience often requires letting go of the hands-on technical skills that drew them to the IT profession in the first place. Likewise, very few business professionals are able to grasp the technical aspects of the CIO role necessary to effectively manage technical staff.

How is the role of the CIO changing?

In the past, the role of the CIO has been focused on effective management of IT infrastructure – where the majority of legacy IT investments were made for the past 30 years. With the transition to cloud services, virtualized IT environments and scalable/secure infrastructure provided by external service providers, the role of the CIO (and the entire IT department) are shifting from managing the technology to managing the use of technology within the business. Trends like digital transformation, consumerization of IT, and the proliferation of cloud-based technologies are leading CIOs to become more astute business advisors – consulting with other executives on how to best apply technologies to solve business problems

The CIO’s role in overseeing internal IT operations activities is also changing. Instead of managing large portfolios of infrastructure and teams of technical staff, companies are shifting to outsourced models (akin to manufacturing supply chain ecosystems) where the IT department’s primary role is to broker services sourced from 3rd parties. This IT ecosystem business model has a big impact on the role that the CIO plays – reducing the personnel and asset management activities and replacing them with supplier relationship management and service assurance activities.

The CIO’s role is also shifting from being focused on technology to being focused on managing the company’s information assets. While IT has always had a dual charter for both information and technology management, technology has been the primary focus for the past 30 years. As technology evolution accelerates, many companies are now viewing hardware and software as disposable resources and information as the durable asset that creates strategic value for the company. CIOs are playing an important role in educating business executives on the expanding importance of information management in driving business productivity and company strategic differentiation.

Other IT Resources

cio vs cto

Blog

CIO vs CTO- What’s the difference anyway?

E-Book

Career in IT Support & 5 Hottest jobs you should be looking out for

Book

IT Skills Needed for 2019

E-Book

How to sell your boss on your next big IT initiative