The constantly changing role of the CIO

The constantly changing role of the CIO

It's a mistake to think the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) only recently changed. The reality is, it's always changing. As new technologies and innovations change the way we work, the expectations and importance of CIOs are constantly evolving.

Partner in Charge, Technology Advisory

KPMG Australia


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In the post global financial crisis (GFC) era a big shift that has occurred has been in the fundamental perception of the role IT – and by extension the CIO – specifically what role the CIO plays in setting and realising business strategy. It's no longer a viable option for the CIO and the IT function to simply focus on traditional skills – enabling basic communications and security. They need to add value – and demonstrate and measure that value clearly.

IT can no longer operate under a veil of complexity – proof of tangible benefits delivered is now a standard requirement across large organisations.

"Organisations that want to remain competitive, continue to generate revenue and retain customers need to innovate – and the technology function is an intrinsic part of the innovation dynamic."
Richard Marrison
Partner in Charge, Technology

At the same time, organisations that want to remain competitive, continue to generate revenue and retain customers need to innovate – and the technology function is an intrinsic part of the innovation dynamic. What does this mean for the role of the CIO? At the most basic level it means a shift from running an IT department to running IT like a business. Given the extent to which technology platforms are now shaping and measuring customer demand, it also means a seat at the table when it comes to overall business strategy.

Key elements to the CIO's role now include:

  • facilitating whole of business strategy
  • enabling collaboration between IT, finance, and business partners
  • driving alignment between technology supply and business demand
  • guiding and demonstrating the value of technology to business partners.

Against this backdrop, there are some key principles emerging around how CIOs can successfully navigate the constant change brought by technology on business strategy.

Embrace disruption – but maintain a cost focus

Disruptive technologies, like cloud, mobile, the 'Internet of Things' and Big Data, have huge potential, but CIOs must focus on creating detailed business cases before venturing deeply into disruptive technologies. Creating an environment where teams can 'fail fast' is immeasurably valuable – teams can test platforms and solutions before large scale roll out – but the CIO needs to overcome the 'fear of failure' factor and remain committed to follow through when the test environment demonstrates value around a specific solution or platform.

Change IT discussion from a cost to a value investment

Managing the business of IT through an integrated view of technology cost, performance, supply and demand is a value-oriented conversation bigger than IT alone. To transform from technology provider to value-focused business partner, IT must address its business audience and tie into corporate culture, strategy, and goals. This kind of transformation can be achieved by following a distinct process:

  • Optimise your cost for performance: provide the right quality, service and managed risk for the best possible price. 
  • Rationalise to sustain value creation: regularly simplify, modernise and consolidate the technology portfolio to keep costs down and maintain agility. 
  • Innovate to grow and compete: invest in change.
  • Enable agility: Businesses must continually adapt to changing markets and competitive landscapes. Building in agility allows rapid response at lower costs.

Ensure teams are equipped to run IT like a business

The shift to running IT like a business means new skills and capabilities are required beyond the usual remit of technology team members. To deliver the strategic success now demand of IT, CIO need to build teams that understand both technology and business and that are skilled in cross-functional capabilities.

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