The CIO identity crisis

As the drive to achieve digital transformation causes job roles to change, where does that leave the CIO?

This is a contributed article by Devin Gharibian-Saki, Chief Solution Officer, Redwood Software

As technology has advanced and become more important to businesses, so has the role of the chief information officer. However, as this evolution has continued, an ongoing misalignment between what organisations want and what IT teams deliver has become clear. More recently, especially, with emerging technologies such as RPA, AI and ML placing a greater burden on IT teams to do more, faster, CIOs have found themselves under increased pressure to break this cycle and prove their value.

Tasked with navigating teams through a revamped digital marketplace, today's CIOs have an extremely difficult job on their hands - ensuring the teams they are managing meet and exceed expectations, otherwise risking a hit to their reputation. With more organisations continuing to work towards digital transformation, and adopting modern technologies to help them do so, CIOs have been left facing a huge identity crisis. However, rather than see this as a negative knock-on effect of technological growth, CIOs should see their situation as an opportunity to mould their ‘new' role.


The new kids on the block

Before every member of the c-suite began taking a digital-first approach, chief information officers were always seen as the enterprise innovators. It was their job to think ahead, picking the best technologies available to ensure the business was staying competitive and reaching the next level.

However, as the pace of innovation has increased and CIOs have found it more difficult to juggle multiple types of technology, we've seen new roles introduced to meet the needs of the wider organisation. In just a couple of years, chief digital officers and digital transformation directors have made themselves a desired and indispensable part of a business, altering a lot of the CIO's responsibility and therefore dramatically shifting perceptions.

This internal adjustment is clear to see if you look at hierarchies of companies, specifically at board level. While lines of reporting used to be apparent - with CIOs always having their own reserved space - they are now one-step removed, often reporting to the CFO or even their ‘replacement' - the chief digital officer.


Barriers to success

While the introduction of these new business roles has had an overwhelming impact more recently, CIOs have actually been struggling to overcome a variety of barriers for some years now, most of which have been internal and focused on three key areas.

Firstly, many IT teams still work in silos, meaning a number of different departments often need to be involved in order to deliver a full service. Not only does this usually result in a clash of personal interests, it also requires a lot more time and management, trying to give each team an equal say in how things are done and causing extra work for the CIO.

With not every member of the business having a good understanding of the full technology picture, it's then even more difficult for CIOs to justify why projects aren't completed on time, or why the deployment of certain tools and platforms hasn't gone to plan. Especially when relying on software vendors as a means of injecting and supporting innovation, part of the constant battle CIOs are fighting is managing third-party over-promising and under-achieving within the wider organisation, specifically at exec level.

Despite this constant hype cycle amounting to even more pressure, with a combination of raised expectations and false hopes, the biggest barrier for CIOs to deliver is still not knowing how to use what is available to them. This inability to use technology in the best way has left chief information officers stuck in a fast-paced hamster wheel, desperate to deliver but not knowing how to. With technology continuing to evolve at an exponential rate, trying to stay one-step ahead is never going to work, but it can be better managed.


Uplift, own and upskill

In order for CIOs to revive their status as strategic innovators, they must first have a clear understanding of who across the organisation has the right skills to support them. The structure adopted by enterprises many years ago makes it difficult to have visibility of this, but by identifying those also willing to drive change, CIOs can better take ownership of projects.

However, the real change that can be made is to attitude. In companies where an open mindset exists, innovation is not a problem and neither is a lack of skill. If CIOs are open to change, upskilling will come hand-in-hand. As technologies like robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to take over the business landscape, the role of the CIO is only going to become more important.

While it's essential for CIOs to focus on their own growth, it's also crucial that organisations support this change, enabling those in senior IT positions to carve out their modern-day role. Only through a mix of innovation, collaboration and enthusiasm will we see this situation resolved and both CIOs and the businesses they work satisfied.

Devin Gharibian-Saki is Chief Solution Officer at Redwood Software. Calling on 10 years of experience in SAP, having worked as a technology consultant, project manager and process advisor, Gharibian-Saki brings a wealth of process automation experience to Redwood that he brings to bear daily on both internal and external audiences.