The Post-Pandemic CIO

Over the past year, CIOs have proven themselves capable of innovating in the midst of great crisis and upheaval. As CIOs ascend to the top of the C-Suite ladder, what’s next for the role?

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While last week we wrote about the rise (and potential future decline) of the Chief Digital Transformation Officer (CDxO), today we’re going to look at how the role of CIOs has evolved over the past year as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Few roles have changed more in the past twenty years than that of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). As digital technology becomes a primary enabler of business growth, the role has evolved from that of an “order taker” or “custodian of IT” to that of an innovator. 

First outlined by William Synnott and William Gruber in their 1981 book Information Resource Management: Opportunities and Strategies for the 1980s, was conceived as a “business person first, manager second, and technologists third” that would share equal power with the CEO and CFO. 

Though the power and prominence of the CIO varies from company to company over the past 40 years, one thing is certain: there has never been a better time for CIOs to take their rightful position as a C Suite power player. 

The Covid Era CIO

Over the past year, organizations of all types and sizes have told us, “the pandemic accelerated our digital transformation by 5 years” Or “we achieved 2 years of digital transformation in just 3 months.“ At this point, we’ve heard it hundreds of times from organizations of all types and sizes.

By forcing workers into their homes and transitioning historically in-person businesses (i.e. retail, events, etc.) into the digital space, the pandemic pushed companies to digitize at an unprecedented pace, putting the CIO front and center. 

According to a recent study conducted by Adobe, COVID-19’s impact on the CIO’s evolving role, “CIOs sit at the center of virtually every major business initiative in today’s digital-first economy“ and over 75% of CIOs say that “their role has expanded, that their responsibilities have increased, and that they have greater influence on leadership decisions within their organization.” 

As for how CIOs see themselves, 89% of CIOs see themselves as “change agents who play a role in improving the culture of their organization.” Instead of responding to business demands, the modern day CIO is now proactively steering business strategy and innovation. 


The Post-Pandemic CIO

While 2020 was defined by crisis response, 2021 has proved to be an entirely different can of worms. As Sanjay Srivastava, Genpact chief digital officer explained in a recent interview, “The new role of the CIO is co-innovator. It's co-creator of the new business model, and you actually have to shift your mindset from value delivery to co-creation of the new business.”

The upheaval that defined 2020 permanently disrupted “business as usual” for almost every company in existence. There is no going back to the way things were and companies must continue to reinvent themselves to continue thriving in a digital-first economy. 

For CIOs this means more responsibility, power and budget. Gartner predicts worldwide IT spending will reach $3.9 trillion in 2021, an increase of 6.2% from 2020. In that same report, the analyst wrote, “CIOs have a balancing act to perform in 2021 -- saving cash and expanding IT. With the economy returning to a level of certainty, companies are investing in IT in a manner consistent with their expectations for growth, not their current revenue levels. Digital business, led by projects with a short time to value, will get more money and board level attention going into 2021."

In other words, CIOs demonstrated incredible ingenuity and strength over the past year. The challenge now will be keeping up the momentum and proving the long-term value of digital transformation


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