What the CIO agenda says about the future of CIOs

CIOs now wield the skills and capacity to lead ongoing change and drive the organisation's core strategy.

Digitization is no longer the trend of the future; it's the here-and-now. According to Gartner's 2019 CIO Agenda: Secure the Foundation for Digital Business report, in just one year the number of businesses that have reported that they have reached digital scale has jumped from 17 percent to 33 percent.

This is changing how businesses approach IT and is therefore changing how CIOs need to go about their own jobs. According to the same report, 49 percent of respondents said that their organisation's business model has already changed, or is deep in changing, and 55 percent of organisations have made the shift from project delivery to product delivery.

"We've reached a tipping point in digital maturity around the world which means that organisations are no longer thinking about digital as something new, and there's no longer the sense that organisations feel the need to be radical towards digitization," Gartner Research Director, CIO Advisory Group, Jenny Beresford, said.

"That's changed the position that the CIO has had in the organisation. They now wield the skills and capacity to lead ongoing change and drive the organisation's core strategy, which gives them more responsibility and power within the organisation."

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Where once the CIO was a relatively minor role within the executive team of an organisation, tasked purely with keeping the "IT lights on" and mitigating against technology-driven risks, that has been changing - and rapidly - in recent years. Where once the CIO was the ultimate goal of an individual that started out in IT as a technologist, now increasingly the CIO is being asked to look at the organisation beyond technology, and then leverage technology to drive those strategic goals, meaning that the CIO can be seen as a stepping stone towards broader executive responsibility, rather than the end point of a career path.

The new face of the CIO

This change in role of the CIO within the broader organisation is also necessitating a change in the skills and capabilities of the CIO. It's also changing the idea of who could become a CIO. With CIOs now reporting directly to the CEO and frequently making presentations to the board, the CIO role itself is increasingly being seen as a part of a career path open to anyone with an awareness of technology and an innovative spirit.

"As organisations hit the point where that they're digitally mature, CIOs need to step up in their leadership capabilities," Beresford said.

"Digitally mature businesses have a great opportunity to scale beyond digital boundaries and extend. The consumer is also driving incredible appetite for change, shifting CIOs to think more about delivering product, and they're also learning the criticality of agility; the speed in taking ideas to market. Being able to continuously develop and take products to market is a highly valued skill for true business leadership."

Because the CIO role is broadening into something more strategic, it's also starting to change the kinds of leaders that are attracted to step into CIO roles. Often they no longer come from a straight technology background - having an understanding of IT is important, but with the right team around them successful CIOs can be recruited from more business strategy-orientated career paths.

In other words, for the modern CIO, having an MBA and other business qualifications are just as valued as the technology expertise. Having the ability to work across disciplines and work closely with CMOs and other executives is more important now than ever, and having the ability to communicate and present ideas, all the way to the board level, is a new requirement to the CIO job description.

"It's being driven by the need for continuous product management in the organisation," Beresford said. "The organisation would be very irresponsible if they felt they could have a disconnected cycle towards delivery in today's environment, and there is a real move away from projects-based operating models, where you'd do a project, stop, and do another project. The move towards continuous project management means that there simply can't be a separation between IT and marketing or IT and digital, or indeed IT and the overall business.

"IT and the business are working much more harmoniously now than they were a couple of years ago."

As the Gartner 2019 CIO Agenda: Secure the Foundation for Digital Business report states: "Adopting a product-centric model builds trust across the organisation and fosters better engagement between it and business stakeholders, as people work toward a common goal and see results.

"By clearing that path to product delivery, your IT organisation can drive quicker, higher-quality business outcomes while improving customer satisfaction and employee engagement."

CIOs are learning how to become more entrepreneurial with their approach to product design and roll-out. They'll make ideal candidates for leadership roles in startups (particularly technology startups) or will otherwise become a "rock star" of the executive leadership roles in large corporates. The future for the CIO is truly more varied and dynamic than it has ever been for those in the role in the past.

Find out more about the future for CIOs now.