Firms are planning to crank up the hiring of chief digital officers and chief data officers, but it won't necessarily be at the expense of CIOs. In fact, it is IT middle management who look more likely to lose out.
Some 19 percent of business leaders expect to recruit a chief digital officer by 2014, while 17 percent foresee a chief data officer appointment, according to a study by Gartner.
When CEOs and business leaders of large organisations worldwide were quizzed about the roles they expect to have in two years, the CIO position emerges as static. But there is significant growth in innovator and digital leader posts and a decline in the IT management tier.
"Overall, it's a progressive move towards more technology-driven leadership in total," said Mark Raskino, vice president and Gartner fellow.
"But if you don't have CIO as a title — you were always wondering why they wouldn't make you CIO because they weren't recognising you as a senior leader — those are the people who are more at risk," he said.
"What we see here is a market exploring possibilities. It's breaking ground by trying to create new leader names and types to solve problems and it's an exploration that's going on across different boards from different companies."
The study also found the CEOs and senior executives, who work for organisations with annual revenues of $250m or more, are planning to increase IT investments this year, by a ratio of more than four to one.
Raskino said that finding is positive and reflects a mood that favours digital innovation, even though there is a huge variation in what that concept actually represents to different businesses and industries.
"Digital can vary quite a lot — just like e-business did a decade or a decade and a half ago," he said.
Digital innovation in the ascendancy
Raskino said the research showed that new roles perceived as involving digital innovation are clearly in the ascendancy, while the IT management level below CIO will be in decline.
"On the other side of the CIO line are the people just one step back from that — IT directors, heads of IT," he said.
"Where you have people who don't carry the CIO title or something very similar, their recognition in the enterprise has been as the guy who manages the datacentres and the apps but not reporting at executive level — it's those people there'll be fewer of."
The change is highly significant and reflects a growing emphasis on digital innovation, according to Raskino.
"This is the first time we are seeing a shift in emphasis since the 1998 sort of era in general. We've got a reshaping of what technology leadership looks like going on here," he said.
Chief digital officer specifications
Raskino said headhunters are being given specifications for chief digital officers as new separate posts in addition to the CIO role.
"But they are also finding that when they're being given a CIO specification, it includes a lot of digital skills. So some companies might [hire] a chief digital officer. Others might say, 'My next CIO replacement is going to be much more digital. We'll reshape the role'," he said.
Chief digital officers tend to appear more in consumer-facing industries, according to Raskino, while heads of innovation are more often found in business-to-business environments.
"Chief data officer comes from a different provenance really. For those companies where data is a really important asset and that asset has now crossed the line where it's going out of control because it's just so complex. Those are the first people to recruit chief data officers," he said
"And usually the first reason to do it is to get the asset under control and later on to start exploiting the asset more effectively. That's typically banks and insurance companies at the moment."