CEOs Deploy CIOs for Digital Leadership

Successful CIOs must become agents for change, bolster their collaboration prowess and adopt a business first mindset, as CEOs lean on them to lead digital transformation.

Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer

January 30, 2024

4 Min Read
Waiter hand holding an empty digital tablet with Businessman wear a rocket suit to lift
Zoonar GmbH via Alamy Stock

At a Glance

  • Tech investments are the starting blocks for the race to improve business outcomes.
  • CIOs should mix technical prowess with business acumen to achieve goals.
  • A “business first” mindset helps CIOs use technology to drive business and value.

As CEOs increasingly look to chief information officers (CIOs) for leadership in areas like AI, cloud computing, and cybersecurity, the CIO role will require a focus on marrying tech investment with improved business outcomes.  

Progressive CIOs are positioning their CxOs as co-leaders in digital delivery and turning technology decisions into shared leadership initiatives -- a recent Gartner survey of more than 2,400 CIOs found 45% of CIOs are driving the shift to co-ownership of digital leadership.

This democratization not only boosts the value of digital transformation but gives CIOs an opportunity to extend their strategic influence by enabling the entire enterprise to contribute to digital capabilities.

This not only helps adapt to evolving advances in AI, cloud, and cybersecurity, but also empowers these leaders to proactively shape the organization’s future.

Communication, Collaboration, Prioritization

“Communication is key to building cross-functional bridges,” Art Gilliland, CEO at Delinea, explains in an email interview. 

He says CIOs should work to understand the business objectives of the other functions so they can bring their functional expertise to help others achieve their goals.

While CIOs today need a combination of technical understanding and business acumen, the most important skill is collaboration and prioritization.

Related:4 Tips for C-Suite Leaders to Accelerate Tech Wealth

“There are so many competing priorities -- great CIOs must help manage the focused prioritization and the communication across functional and business boundaries so the executive teams are all aligned on where investments will flow,” Gilliland notes.

Demonstrating tangible outcomes such as revenue growth, strengthened security postures, and market competitiveness are key aspects that make projects compelling for the C-suite.

Building the Business Case

Theja Birur, CTO at 4L Data Intelligence, explained in an email interview that by actively engaging with CxOs, CIOs can build compelling business cases that highlight the competitive advantages and potential ROI of digital transformation.

“Setting measurable KPI metrics ensures ongoing collaboration and success,” she explains. “By aligning digital initiatives with the company’s mission and fostering cross-functional collaboration, CIOs can reinforce their role as strategic partners within the C-suite.”

Birur points out collaboration between the CIO and CFO could result in cost-effective cloud computing strategies, optimizing infrastructure, and enhancing financial performance, while collaboration between the CIO and CMO could spur innovative uses of AI for personalized customer experiences.

Related:The Case for a Fractional CIO

“By embracing a proactive approach, CIOs can ensure technology becomes a catalyst for improved efficiencies, revenue growth and competitive market edge,” Birur says.

Bring Clarity to Decision-Making

From Gilliland’s perspective, effective CIOs start with understanding the business goals and then apply the expertise of their function to bring clarity to decision-making or efficiency and support to business processes.

He points to Delinea’s consolidation of the business’s systems information into a centralized cloud data warehouse-- a shift which required close coordination between the CEO, CTO and CIO.

“That project enabled the company to align on the data that matters as an organization and focused our conversations on the insights versus wasting time on questioning data provenance,” Gilliland says. “The addition of AI over that information has also helped us accelerate the analysis and discovery of trends.” 

He adds CIOs should embrace and experiment with cutting-edge technology and then educate the executive team regarding the benefits and drawbacks.

“Helping to provide education on the new capabilities of technology starts the conversation and will help raise the capabilities of the entire organization,” he says.

Related:5 Ways a CIO Can Assess the IT Landscape in a New Role

Adopt a 'Business First' Mindset

Saurajit Kanungo, president of consulting firm CG Infinity, adds the very strength that made someone a CIO can become baggage to be able to collaborate effectively.

“A typical CIO probably has an engineering or computer science degree,” he explains in an email interview. “Few of them eventually become a CIO only to find that their technical prowess matters less and less to their peers, the CEO, and to the board members. CIOs are measured on their ability to learn to speak the language of business, not technology.”

Kanungo says the successful CIOs he has analyzed are very comfortable in going beyond their peers’ titles and seek to establish human connections rather than getting bogged down in formal roles and responsibilities.

“They start to use their power of influence more and more and stay away from the power of authority,” he explains.

He advises CIOs to think “business first” and then use technology as a lever to drive business value, not the other way around.

“Whether you like it or not, CIOs must be the biggest change ambassadors in the organization otherwise return on digital investments will not be realized,” he says. “Become comfortable with ambiguity so that you can move the digital goals forward, because you will never have all the answers.” 

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

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