The role of a Chief Information Officer (CIO)

As technology takes an increasingly important role in many businesses, the role of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) becomes more central to the core operation of the business. The CIO answers directly to the board of a corporation, the CEO, or the CFO and, as such, has a wide influence over internal issues that go beyond IT management. Governing of information goes beyond governing simply information technology. Most companies that have a heavy investment in information technology create a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to play the role of visionary leader in the area of technology and product architecture.

CIOs are not always technology managers by background. They can be technology aware business managers able to bridge the cultural and process differences between technology delivery and business users. According to recent surveys, a majority of IT leaders report a shortage of high-level personal skills among their management. CIOs are often the people who reduce the gap between IT professionals and non-IT professionals in order to make these relationships productive.

The organizational and personal development skills of the CIO are increasingly valued in organizations that meld technology with other business organizational functions. The CIO must balance roles in order to integrate technology into the organization and work toward competitive advantages for the company. The CIO has responsibilities in the area of finance, professional recruitment, policy and strategy development. Many CIOs have especially strong management skills. In many, business acumen and strategic perspectives take precedence over technical background. Many CIOs  are appointed from the business side of the organization. Many have MBA or MS in Management level training.

As information gains greater importance in organizations, the prominence of the CIO as a key person in formulating strategic goals for organizations as grown. Many CIOs are adding additional executive titles to. This trend is often referred to as “CIO Plus.”

As the role of the CIO broadens, and responsibility increases, the risk in the job also increases. The CIO takes responsibility for a lot of the errors and breakdowns that cause company losses. In 2014, when 40 million credit card details and 70 million customer details were stolen by hackers at Target, it was the CIO who took responsibility and had to resign. Much of the burden on CIOs is risk management. The CIO must be knowledgeable about their industry so they can adapt and reduce the chance of error.

Many companies are changing from product development and sales to an emphasis on services. The models of increasing numbers of former software and technical companies are changing to Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, and Business Processing Outsourcing. In those companies, the role of the CIO has been changing toward that of a third-party manager for the organizations. The CIO has to possess the business skills to relate to organizations as a whole, more than just a limited set of technical skills. The CIO role is changing to include anticipating trends in the marketplace and insuring that the business navigates these trends.

The evolution of the CIO followed the evolution of IT. When the main frame was king, the CIO (or whatever they called them then) were strictly back office. CIOs worked to automate office functions to reduce head counts. They tightly supervised programmers who were busy writing home-grown software. This generation of CIOs had technical backgrounds. They were most often recruited from outside the company, often with little general business knowledge.

As IT moved from mainframes to distributed servers, CIOs moved from their chilled computer room fortresses to deal with users. Their skills began to incorporate persuasion and coordination. Finally as software started to be delivered from off-premises sources, CIOs needed less software knowledge and more knowledge about installation and dealing with end-users. The degree of technical knowledge in the role kept decreasing.

By 1998, an increasing number of CIOs came from line functions outside of IT. Long tenure inside the IT department was the least likely springboard for a CIO career. The joke during that time of transition was that CIO meant “career is over.”

Established in Nashua, NH in 1985, White Mountain IT has been a leader in the local IT consulting and support field for over thirty years. We know about change in the industry, but we have never deviated from our primary goals and core competencies, that of being a world-class service company focused entirely on our client’s needs. Contact us to learn more.

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