Learning & Development

2018: the year of the ‘chameleon’ CIO

By Chris Underwood, Adastrum Consulting
Learning & Development
Published: 12 January 2018

The CIO role has changed over the years from a cost centred back office function (what we might now identify as an IT Director rather than CIO) reporting into finance, to a key organisational executive reporting to the CEO or COO – with an increasing number of CIO’s becoming COO’s in their own right.

While this elevation initially came as the role of technology in an organisation progressed, communication and efficiency played an increasingly vital part too. The role has evolved further with the rise of all things digital and the CIO is now likely to be very customer centric, spending at least 40% of their time driving better user experiences and journeys and making customer interactions more frictionless. In doing so they drive revenue, customer loyalty and profitability.

Where a CIO has not been able to do this, perhaps because they have been filling more of an IT Director role, organisations have frequently hired a Chief Digital Officer. Don’t expect this title to exist in years to come though, as soon there will be no such thing as a non-digital CIO.

As such, the modern digital CIO has to be a chameleon, wearing many frequently opposing hats and displaying high levels of mental and emotional agility. These include:

  • Being very process orientated to manage risk and deliver stable ‘always on’ service to both internal and external customers
  • Embracing and encouraging agile, collaborative and new ways of working and cultures
  • Driving a culture of accepting and learning from failure through experimentation with new technology, user designs and products
  • Being a master story teller (selling the vision of the art of the possible to the rest of the executive team and down into their own organisations)
  • Being delivery and outcome focused to execute and deliver that vision (both through their own organisation and via third parties)
  • Being able to assess and understand the benefits of new products and technology – not being afraid to be an ‘early adopter’ … think cloud, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, automation and all things data!
  • Possessing strong cyber security knowledge and insight into the impact of the new GDPR governance
  • Driving collaborative cultures…bringing together cross-silo or multi-functional project teams to solve problems
  • Being inquisitive and curious and understanding who their customer is…and what they can do for them.

Creating meaningful, sustainable change is hard. It takes time, practise, repetition and failure and you’ll never know when you’ve finished…only how far you’ve come and not how far you need to go!

Such a cultural shift is hard to achieve – overcoming learned organisational behaviours and legacies, hierarchies and structures to get multi-disciplined multi-functional teams to collaborate to drive change and solve real business problems. This is a key shift that that the digital CIO should drive and enable…and reinforce again and again.

With the right combination of skills, attitude and approach, the modern CIO can play a hugely pivotal role in achieving this cultural shift and driving real value for an organisation.

About the author
Chris Underwood is managing director at executive search and leadership assessment and development firm Adastrum Consulting.