How COVID Expanded CIOs' Power and Influence - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IT Leadership
08:00 AM
John Edwards
John Edwards
Connect Directly

How COVID Expanded CIOs' Power and Influence

The pandemic changed many things both inside and outside the IT world. For chief information officers, it opened the door to a new era of authority and leadership.

Credit: PhotocreoBednarek via Adobe Stock
Credit: PhotocreoBednarek via Adobe Stock

Ever since enterprises began appointing CIOs, the position has been viewed with skepticism by many other C-level executives. COVID has changed that attitude forever.

As the pandemic began sweeping across industries and markets, enterprise leaders turned to CIOs to supply technology solutions addressing seemingly irresolvable challenges. By and large, IT executives not only met the task, but revealed ways to make long-term improvements to essential business operations.

The pandemic turned digital transformation into an immediate business imperative, making the CIO even more critical to ensuring that businesses are set up for growth and success," said Chris Bedi, CIO at ServiceNow, a cloud computing management platform developer. At the pandemic's start, many CIOs suddenly found themselves responsible for ensuring that entire workforces had the tools needed to seamlessly transition to remote work. "Now, as organizations start bringing employees back to the office, CIOs are orchestrating the critical transition from remote to hybrid work models," he noted.

Chris Bedi, ServiceNow
Chris Bedi, ServiceNow

Ever since the position's inception, the CIO has been expected to fill the gaps separating enterprise business and technology units. As COVID altered the work paradigm for many organizations, the CIO's role has expanded, said Rahul Mahna, virtual CIO and managing director of managed security services at accounting firm EisnerAmper’s process, risk, and technology solutions unit. "There have been large-scale changes in remote working that include screen-sharing software, cloud-based application shifts, return-to-office guidelines and protocols, health checks, and more," he observed. "Most of the origination of the selection and design of these technologies started with the CIO, and we see this trend continuing with the new hybrid work environment."

A New Future

"The pandemic undoubtedly expanded the power and influence of the CIO significantly, but the signs of this shift were evident before the pandemic," said Khalid Kark, US CIO program research leader at business and IT advisory firm Deloitte. "Many CIOs were on track to become cross-functional business leaders, and the pandemic catapulted them into the spotlight and accelerated this journey tremendously," he explained. The good news is that many CIOs rose to the challenge and successfully navigated the shift to digital, even as the physical world came to a stop.

In this new future of work, CIOs have extended their role beyond the boundaries of IT into supporting employee well-being and shaping workforce culture, Bedi noted. "In this environment, IT leaders have moved beyond developing typical IT technology into developing new technologies that make it easy for employees, whether remote or in-office, to participate and feel involved in the workplace."

Rahul Mahna, EisnerAmper
Rahul Mahna, EisnerAmper

COVID taught enterprises that they don't need detailed, large-scale plans to make good things happen. "This is what it means to be 'agile'," said Prashant Kelker, partner, digital strategy and solutions, with technology research and advisory firm ISG. The pandemic also revealed the fact that large-scale transformations can happen in a continuous manner. "[CIOs] need to implement and execute by learning from vendors and partners, who themselves are learning from their leading-edge clients, and not pretend like they have all the answers," he advised.

COVID's impact is likely to reverberate for many years. "The CIO role will become more ingrained into the fabric of strategic organizational design and it will only grow in importance," Mahna predicted.

A Double-Edged Sword

Elevating technology and adding more tasks to the CIO's already challenging workload can be a double-edged sword. "If the right leadership, operating model, and capabilities exist to exploit this potential, it could unlock tremendous value for organizations," Kark predicted. "On the other hand, if this is done without consideration for the existing state and the complexity of the journey, it could lead to disappointment and failure."

Prashant Kelker, ISG
Prashant Kelker, ISG

The responsibility for long-term enterprise success rests on the CIO who can help shape the organization's future. "The CIO also needs the 'air-cover' and support from the leadership and boards to create the environment and resources ... to be successful," Kark said.

In the years ahead, as transformation continues, CIOs will find themselves juggling new responsibilities while perhaps seeing some of their powers drifting toward other enterprise leaders. "The change may manifest itself in different ways," Kark said. Some organizations may decide to delegate new responsibilities to other executives with other titles, such as chief digital officer (CDO), chief technology officer (CTO) or, in some cases, a chief transformation or innovation officer, he noted.

A Golden Chance

The pandemic's imminent conclusion presents a "golden chance" to CIOs, Kelker said. "COVID is the comeback of the CIO," he stated. "CIOs who use this chance will find themselves back at the table."

What to Read Next:

Why and How the Chief Information Officer Role is Changing

CIOs: The New Corporate Rock Stars

IT Leadership: 10 Ways the CIO Role Changed in 2020


John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

Remote Work Tops SF, NYC for Most High-Paying Job Openings
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  7/20/2021
Blockchain Gets Real Across Industries
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  7/22/2021
Seeking a Competitive Edge vs. Chasing Savings in the Cloud
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/19/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
This new report from InformationWeek explores what we've learned over the past year, critical trends around ITOps and SecOps, and where leaders are focusing their time and efforts to support a growing digital economy. Download it today!
Current Issue
Monitoring Critical Cloud Workloads Report
In this report, our experts will discuss how to advance your ability to monitor critical workloads as they move about the various cloud platforms in your company.
Flash Poll