Why CIOs Are Under Pressure to Innovate

The chief information officer role isn’t only about technology anymore. What CIOs do must demonstrably benefit the business.

Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer

May 15, 2024

8 Min Read
Business person draws a creative business project
Federico Caputo via Alamy Stock

The days of just keeping the lights on is a luxury today’s chief information officers can’t afford. Instead of being order takers, savvy CIOs are partnering with other members of the C-suite to help propel the business forward and at a growing number of companies that also means taking on the role of an innovator.  

“The role of CIOs is quickly moving beyond just managing tech systems. They’re tasked with using technology to drive business changes, boost growth, make operations more efficient and improve the customer experience,” says Matt Majoli, founder and CEO of IT consultancy Alliance Optix, in an email interview. “The innovative CIO’s mindset must shift from ‘just keeping things running’ to being a crucial player in strategic business moves, and they must show a deeper understanding of the role technology plays in the future of the business.” 

Digital transformation accelerated the merging of IT and the business that once operated in parallel. However, the trend has also been fueled by CIOs who recognize the increasingly strategic nature of their position.   

“This calls for CIOs who are on top of technology, sharp on business strategy and good at rallying teams from different functions,” says Prasad Ramakrishnan, SVP of IT and CIO at business software provider Freshworks in an email interview. “Succeeding requires the CIO to be an adaptable visionary who can closely align technology with business goals.” 

Related:How Today’s CIOs Drive Value

Importantly, innovation does not always mean developing or deploying new tools or processes. 

“In the case of IT, it is about simplifying the lives of the end users, whether they are our employees or our customers,” says Ramakrishnan. “This may involve removing and trimming excess steps from existing processes, reducing friction for end users. Additionally, it could mean reducing latency in data movement between two applications, which would favorably reduce the cycle time for accessing information from the end customer's point of view." 

The shift in responsibilities also requires a mindset shift. 


"A key understanding of the company’s priorities is required to properly think through tough decisions. Innovators must always have their finger on the pulse of what is important and relevant to the business,” says Ramakrishnan. “Also, keep it simple; use a back-to-basics mindset for problem-solving. You don't need to have a complex project to demonstrate your intelligence." 

However, one does need to be up on trends, like the fact today’s employees are demanding tools that are intuitive, sophisticated and functional. 

Related:7 Top IT Challenges in 2024

“The need for tools that enhance the employee experience is more important than ever to spark innovation,” says Ramakrishnan. “The pace of innovation for corporate apps lags behind that of consumer apps, leading to an expectation mismatch." 

He also stresses that strong C-level leadership alignment and governance are key for CIOs to succeed as innovators. CIOs also need strong relationships with their IT product managers and business process owners to ensure frequent reviews of the existing technology stack because it builds confidence in the active use of current applications within the organization, contributing to improved innovative practices. 

What CIO Innovation Means at MetLife 

Bill Pappas, head of global technology and operations at insurance company MetLife says innovation must be tied to the company’s purpose.  

“It’s not just about chasing the next shiny object. In fact, innovation for innovation's sake is a waste of time,” says Pappas in an email interview. “At MetLife, our approach to innovation is guided by our purpose: Always with you, building a more confident future -- by meeting customers how, when, and where they want to be met.” 

Getting there requires CIOs to employ a high-tech, high-touch mindset that allows innovators to prioritize innovating for value.  

Related:How to Manage a Rapidly Growing IT Team


“Scaling a digital transformation across a global 156-year-old insurance enterprise means embedding technology throughout all lines of business to remain innovative and agile,” says Pappas. “One of the greatest strengths of our organization is that we have combined [the] technology and global customer service operations divisions to form our global technology and operations practice. By combining these two sectors, we’ve been able to innovate in a way that not only supports our customers, but also our employees, powered by data and customer feedback, and doing so in a responsible way.” 

Another success factor is making it clear that innovation isn’t just the IT department’s job but everyone’s job. 

Innovation Also Means Driving Business Growth 

Bryan Wise, CIO at account-based marketing software company 6sense believes for CIOs, “innovation” means being involved in the entire revenue cycle -- from generating leads to closing deals when CIOs have usually only participated in the later stages. 

“By using technology like AI and machine learning to improve the lead-to-cash process and align[ing] tech strategies with business objectives, CIOs can enable smart decision-making and operational efficiency,” says Wise in an email interview. “The mindset required is both analytical and visionary, focused on using current technologies and anticipating future trends. However, CIOs face challenges like aligning tech initiatives with business goals, handling large data volumes, and adapting to fast tech changes without disrupting existing operations.” 

Using AI-driven analytics, innovative CIOs have significantly improved efficiency and the effectiveness of go-to-market strategies, which not only increases revenue but also improves responsiveness to market dynamics.  

“To truly succeed, CIOs need to assert their influence within the executive team, securing the necessary support and resources while fostering a culture that promotes innovation and recognizes the strategic value of IT,” says Wise. “This leadership is essential for integrating technology into wider business strategies and maintaining competitiveness in the digital era.” 

Should You Have an Innovation Team? 

Maneet Singh, CIO at Odyssey Logistics & Technology has an innovation team whose job it is to understand how emerging technologies could benefit the business. 

“My goal for my innovation guy is if you can [have] two successful innovations out of 10, you have done a good job,” said Singh. “I don’t believe in getting the shiny toy. I believe in getting things that make sense for us.” 

They also use proof of concepts (POCs) and minimally viable products (MVPs) to test ideas and to make sure they are ethical for the company. If those initial tests are successful, then the solution is deployed and operationalized. 

The company recently added a new member of the innovation team who was told by Singh that they need to understand the business first and then research technologies and ideas to see how the two fit. 


“Unless we have an operational ROI, you’re not going to buy things,” said Singh. “Once we agree that this project, or this initiative, this idea is going to get an ROI or some benefit.” 

When Singh first joined about a year ago, he did a full assessment of the company’s technology landscape to understand what needed to happen.  

His budget is split 90/10 with 10% allocated to innovation using new technologies or capabilities and 90% on innovation that does not involve new technology or capabilities. 

“For example, we have a lot of systems that are not connected, we have data sitting in all the systems, and we must have a common data warehouse, which you could call innovation or not. We have systems that don't talk to each other, so you must make sure they talk to each other which could be [considered] innovation or not, but it needs to be done to improve business performance,” said Singh. “So, as long as our business is able to serve our customers, improve our profitability, generate EBITA, that's good. And then this 10% should generate an outsized return for us.” 

A recent example is using generative AI to analyze customer emails so the company can better understand its customers.  

“In this case, we talked to the management and said this is what we could do using technology and instead of having 15 people, maybe we can have four here in the customer response group, and oh, by the way [you] may reduce costs,” says Singh. “So, they actually want to get this done and they are now pushing me to do it faster, which is perfect, rather than me pushing them to do [it]. I don't take any project here unless there's a business owner next to every IoT project, unless it is changing routers and switches.” 

About the Author(s)

Lisa Morgan

Freelance Writer

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers business and IT strategy and emerging technology for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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