customer experience, In Defense of the CIO: Why the Role Will Not Fade Away

We've said a lot about the chief information officer this month.

The CIO role will fade away. CIOs should report to CMOs. Innovation escapes CIOs because they don't have the time.

So what do you think, Mr. CIO?

Mr. CIO for us today is Ian Cox, who was a finalist for the British Computer Society’s CIO of the Year award in 2011 and was also ranked among the top 100 UK CIOs for 2012 by CIO Magazine.

Will the role of the CIO fade away?

"The suggestion that the executive functions of the CIO could be subsumed within another C-level role is to misunderstand and grossly undervalue the role of the CIO," the London-based Cox told CMSWire. "In effect it is saying that what a CIO does can easily be done by another C-level role, that being a CIO doesn’t require specialist knowledge or skills in the same way as other senior roles do. This couldn’t be further from the truth."

Unique View 

The CIO, Cox added, has what no other C-suite executive has: a view across the entire business lifecycle and the ability to identify how technology can be used to realize value across this lifecycle.

"In the digital age technology is being used to disrupt industries, create new business models, products and services," said Cox, author of the best-selling book, Disrupt IT.

"To be successful in the digital age businesses need a strong CIO that works across the C-suite to ensure an integrated and consistent approach to technology. The CIO therefore has a key role to play in shaping and leading the digital transformation of their organization."

Marco Pacelli, CEO of ClickFox, argued earlier this month that the role of the CIO is ultimately morphing into the "CAO" or "CDO": Chief Analytic Officer or Chief Data Officer. CIOs used to be, he said, the "smart folks" in the building -- but they're no longer the only ones.

Cox said that while the role of the CIO is changing for sure, it is not diminishing in importance or relevance.

"Indeed, given the importance of technology to the modern enterprise and its potential to drive business transformation and generate competitive advantage, I would argue that the CIO role is actually becoming more important," Cox said.

Agility Needed

But CIOs do need to change. Cox calls for changes in his Disrupt IT book through a new model for IT in the digital age including a radical transformation of the IT function and a repositioning of the CIO role.

customer experience, In Defense of the CIO: Why the Role Will Not Fade Away


To ensure each are equipped to meet the needs of the digital business.

"The digital business needs a CIO," Cox said, "but it has to be the right type of CIO."

Evolving Role

Speaking of change, we asked Cox to compare the role of the CIO now to 10 years ago. He told us it's gone from being a technology and service provider to being a technology and service broker.

"Ten years ago the outsourcing market was far less mature than it is now," Cox said. "Offerings such as Software as a Service (SaaS) were very limited and the cloud did not exist. CIOs therefore had to provide, maintain and support technology for their organizations as there was little or no alternative."

But the tide began to turn five years ago, when the CIO could procure some of what their organizations needed from service providers instead of having to provide it themselves.

"And now," Cox said, "many organizations can obtain the vast majority of their IT requirements from third parties. This means the CIO can spend less time managing the day-to-day running of IT and more time on how technology can be used to add value to the organization."

Being a CIO today, Cox said, is less about being "technical" and more about facilitating the processes that are enabled by technology. 

CIO Reporting to CMO?

No, Cox said.

Digital, he added, spans the entire organization. It is a lot more than just marketing.

"Technology and data are being used throughout the organization to transform processes, business models, products and services," Cox said. "The CIO is key to this, which is why they need to be part of the senior management team instead of being buried under the marketing function."

Cox isn't suggestion a separation of marketing and IT. There needs to be, he said, a close working relationship between marketing and IT.

"But that’s no different to how IT must work with other functions," Cox added. "The CIO has to work closely with all of their C-suite colleagues to ensure the organization can maximize the return from its investment in technology."

So who should they report to? 

The CIO should report to either the COO or the CEO, Cox said.

"The CIO operates right across the business and across functional lines," he said. "The CEO and COO also have this perspective and so are best placed to be able to understand the CIO’s position and to also provide the support, guidance and advice the CIO will need to be effective."

Big-Picture View on CIO

Who the CIO reports to is important, Cox said, but just as critical is how the CIO role is positioned and viewed by the rest of the organization. He said 78 percent of the top 100 CIOs in the UK hold board level positions.

"In other words these CIOs are members of their organization’s senior leadership team, the body that considers and makes the key business decisions," Cox said. "Being involved in the right meetings and discussions is essential to the CIO being able to play a leading role in the digital transformation of their organization."

The CIO’s main objective should be using technology to create value and drive revenue. They should, Cox said, focus on the areas where technology will have the greatest impact: customer facing solutions that differentiate and enhance the customer experience, data and tools that provide insight and intelligence on customer behavior, preferences and trends and technologies that open up new markets or that enable new offerings.

"This involves working with their peers to jointly identify opportunities where technology can make a difference, enabling the rest of the business to access and use the right technology from the right vendor, and ensuring that the resulting platform is integrated and secure and can provide the right data to the right person whenever and however it is needed," Cox said. 

Title image by Dikiiy (Shutterstock).