CIOs crack the glass ceiling

CIOs crack the glass ceiling

Executive Grapevine
Executive Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd

By: Jon White

There was a time when, upon being appointed CIO, the IT professional had reached the apex of their career.  That time is passing.  A new breed of CIO has been born, one for whom the word ‘Chief’ in their job title is more important than ‘Information’. This new crop of CIOs no longer sees the top job in IT as the Holy Grail but a milestone on a longer journey. They are asking ‘What next?’ and with good reason. Because the new age CIO is uniquely equipped to take on the most challenging and critical leadership roles in business today.

The traditional CIO is evolving

Historically, the CIO was confined to being a technologist in a support function. Over the past five years, the role has changed from that of pure technologist to business revolutionary who happens to look after technology but is completely focused on customer centricity and commercialisation.  The clues to this evolution are in the prevalence of job titles like Head of Business Transformation and Process Improvement Director. The divergence of the CIO and CTO roles is also telling, the former driving the change agenda and the latter focusing on core technology. The CTO role comes in different guises, often more innovative than the CIO but usually less commercial.

CIO 2.0 is a distant relation of CIO 1.0

The new CIO 2.0 breed is a more strategic business partner than their CIO 1.0 predecessor.  Commercially astute, they are integral to a raft of operations that underpin an entire business: HR and financial systems; digital customer interfaces; supply chain management; Business Process Outsourcing; product innovation; and new business development. The tendency to be inward facing has gradually turned outward to a bigger picture view, supported by value-add metrics - such as lead conversion rates, cross selling revenues and customer satisfaction data - that resonate with top management.  

In many companies, the term ‘Information Officer’ is outdated. Today’s CIOs are often best in class change specialists, engaging with the Board far more effectively than their CIO 1.0 counterparts. With soft skills in abundance, they have the ability to motivate colleagues and act as a lynchpin that pulls together disparate functions and departments under a single strategic direction.  One such example is Ian Cohen, formerly Group CIO of insurance giant Jardine Lloyd Thompson and currently operating in the board advisory and Non Exec Director space. “The very best CIOs are transformation junkies. It’s not that they can’t do ‘run’, it’s just that they are driven by the change agenda – taking their organisations from where they are to where they need to be” says Cohen. “CIOs genuinely have the unique perspective of seeing change from across the firm rather than through any specific business function and from that vantage point they can bring people together and drive the change” he adds.

CIO 3.0 is a game changer

While CIO 1.0 focused on technology and CIO 2.0 on operations and business process efficiency, the emergence of CIO 3.0 demonstrates the monumental importance of the CIO role in tomorrow’s business.

CIO 3.0 is such a departure from its forebears that it merits an entirely new name to reflect the magnitude of the role: CIMO (Chief Innovation & Monetisation Officer). Embracing all previous responsibilities, and probably swallowing the CDO role too, the CIMO is a true digital native, customer champion and commercial leader with a finger firmly on the financial pulse of the company.  With such influence, the CIMO could well have a seat on the Board. “I’m not too sure about new job titles” says Cohen, “I’ll leave that to others but certainly the next gen / digital CIO is a true ‘double deep’ employee – a genuine business technologist who is as comfortable with the commercials as they are with the technology. They are true leaders, simplifying the digital journey and leading their organisation down a creatively disruptive path.”

Where else can the CIO go?

Today’s CIO has line of sight across the vast majority of disciplines that prop up a business and ensure it remains competitive. Natural transitions within a company are to broader, more mainstream C-suite roles such as Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Digital Officer (CDO) or Head of Global Business Services (GBS), roles that are transformational and shape a company’s future. CIO to CEO is feasible too, though less common. Looking beyond their existing employers, the CIO can aspire to take the helm of a smaller tech business or to go plural and offer their sought-after expertise as a consultant.

Wherever they choose to go, it is clear that the IT profession’s glass ceiling is cracking and the examples are there to prove it. Today’s CIO is upping the stakes, graduating from disruptive technologies to disrupting the C-suite. Given the increasing importance of technology and digital transformation across all business sectors, this could be the beginning of a lasting new trend.   

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