Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Changing Role of the Modern CIO

Datamation content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

It used to be that ‘back in the day’ a CIO typically rose from the ranks of techies, going

from T-shirts and jeans to join the suits around the boardroom table.

Even today, some CIOs achieve their less-than-envious position of bending technology to suit

the business needs of other c-level executives — many of whom have no idea that what they

are asking for is the equivalent of integration hara-kiri.

But most modern-day CIOs are increasingly finding themselves at the decision-making table.

They have become an equal partner to any other c-level executive, with an equal say in what

happens at their companies.

”We see this in spades at the leading corporations in America,” says Richard Brennen, a

partner and managing director of the IT Practice at the recruitment firm of Spencer Stuart.

”What you’re seeing in the CIO today, and going forward, is more of a general manager than

a technician. Today we’re just as likely to see somebody as CIO who never was a programmer

or never worked in a data center.”

Doreen Wright, the CIO of Campbell Soup, couldn’t agree more.

”Today and moving forward, the CIO has to be a business manager first,” she says. ”I

don’t think it’s critical to grow up within the technology industry. You have to understand

how to apply technology but you don’t have to have the depth of knowledge that you did five

years ago or 10 years ago.”

Although, Wright’s situation is not typical of CIOs everywhere — at least not yet.

Campbell’s Soup is a progressive company. Actually, in its industry, Campbell’s is a

leading-edge company when it comes to technology and the role IT plays in the company’s

future success, Wright notes. And unlike many of her peers at other U.S. companies, Wright

does not report to the CFO or the COO. She reports straight to the CEO.

This distinction is critical, says Bob Molnar, who runs a CIO recruiting practice for

Highland Partners. When a CIO reports to a CEO, that CIO tends to be viewed as an equal to

other c-levels in the company, says Molnar, who used to be a CIO at Viacom, as well as at

divisions of American Express, HSBC and MCI.

When the CIO reports to someone else, they tend to be viewed as the director of a cost

center for the company. Of course, none of this is written in stone, but it’s generally

accepted throughout the industry.

”That CIO has just as big a voice and just as big a vote as any other peer — CFO, head of

marketing, head of sales — on every single issue in that company,” says Molnar. ”They are

not just viewed as functional specialists at the table.”

The drivers of this change are many but technology itself seems to be the main culprit.

Off-the-shelf, enterprise-wide solutions, such SCM, ERP and CRM, have freed the CIO from

having to ride herd on a bunch of in-house programmers and allowed them to become active

participants in the decision-making process, according to Jeff Neuberth, managing director

at the recruitment firm of Hunt Howe Partners.

”CIOs have to understand the business and be a business person and a business partner, and

at the same time, they have to understand software and technology and how that can be

leveraged no longer to support the business but to actually drive it and give it an edge,”

he adds.

Wright’s last major in-house assignment was more than 10 years ago when she was charged with

developing a $50 million, multi-currency accounting package for a financial services

company. Today, Quicken’s QuickBooks can do the same thing.

Outsourcing so much requires CIOs to be better communicators and relationship managers,

which basically means they have to be better collaborators.

And, from a technology perspective, the common architecture mandated by linking internal

systems to the outside world means Wright can do things electronically much easier than ever

before. This frees her time for more of the activities more commonly associated with a

c-level executive.

”The skills the CIO needs today are different,” she says. ”You have to be excellent at

vendor management and vendor negotiation because you’re constantly brokering for third-party

systems. So, rather than having the technology team in-house, you have to be able to manage

the firm that is providing those resources.”

Going forward, skills generally associated with the CEO’s or CIO’s jobs are going to be

increasingly important to the CIO.

Brennen notes, What I like to tell people is that the IT agenda today is really the business

agenda of the company.”

Subscribe to Data Insider

Learn the latest news and best practices about data science, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, data security, and more.

Similar articles

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Data Insider for top news, trends & analysis

Latest Articles