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How the CIO role is changing as business needs evolve

Jen A. Miller | Oct. 7, 2014
A decade ago, the typical CIO was concerned mostly with IT infrastructure. Today's CIO faces a bevy of additional challenges, namely user desires for mobility and the cloud. There's an upside, though: Helping users get what they need makes CIOs more visible to the rest of the business.

This means that successful CIOs must be much more aligned with their company's business than they were a decade ago. This means "interpret[ing] the status of their infrastructures," Durbin says, as well as their capabilities to adapt and respond to changing laws and business regulations.

Durbin cites the example of two U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies planning BYOD programs in Europe. One company's CIO raised concerns about the BYOD policy, and the rollout has been slow. The other CIO had no problems, so it happened quickly.

This increased business savvy shows that the CIO has become "somewhat of a different breed" in the last five to 10 years, Cullen says. "You're starting to see a big morph in the kind of person ascending to the CEO seat coming from the CIO world."

As the role of the CIO has changed, what companies look for in a CIO has changed, too, says Chris Patrick, global lead for Egon Zehnder's CIO practice. "The demand for the CIO is to be much more of an influencer, a shaper, a business strategizer, than it has ever been."

It's been a quick change, too. "By definition, this function is relatively young," Patrick says. "Contrast it to CFOs, which have been around since the double ledger."

Today, he says, the CIO "influences and impacts every part of what we do" as a business. That also means finding the right CIO has become a challenge. Companies want someone who understands both the technology landscape and the business implications of technology.

"The role is evolving rapidly and [has] fundamentally shifted from where it started to a role that is much more business-focused, much more demanding," Patrick says, adding that a lot of CIOs "who grew up in this function are ill prepared [or] unprepared to address" this new skill set.

The high demand for these kinds of executives has driven up the price of acquiring top CIO talent.

"Look at what's happening to the Targets and the [Home] Depots," Patrick says. No CEO wants to be next. "Target would probably be the first to say, 'We'd spend almost anything'" if it could have prevented or reduced the impact of the data breach, he says.


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