Chief Information Officer (CIO)

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Definition of the CIO Role

Who is a Chief Information Officer or CIO?
Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the title given to the head of the IT Organization or department in an organization. The "C" or "chief" in the role name is added to reflect equivalence in influence and seniority with the other "C-Suite" roles such as CEO (Chief Executive Officer), COO (Chief Operating Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), and CPO (Chief Procurement Officer). As head of the IT Function, a CIO manages the complete life-cycle of Information Technology - identify, select, build, deploy, monitor, and fix the IT asset.

CIO Responsibilities

What does a Chief Information Officer or CIO do?

  • Create business value through technology [1]
  • Strategic planning of business growth objectives
  • Ensure tech systems and procedures lead to outcomes in line with Business Goals
  • Oversee the development of customer service platforms
  • Manage IT and development team personnel
  • Approve vendor negotiations and IT Architecture
  • Information risk management (IRM)
  • Establish IT policies, IT strategies, and IT standards
  • Develop and approve technology futures and budgets [2]
  • Develop goals and strategies to ensure the IT department runs smoothly and effectively
  • Direct and establish IT-related projects
  • Monitor changes in the technology sector to discover ways the company can improve and develop
  • Supervise the networks and computer systems in the company to ensure optimal performance
  • Plan and direct the implementation of new IT systems
  • Provide leadership to IT specialists and other staff within the company
  • Create and adapt technological platforms to improve the client experience
  • Troubleshoot data-related issues and establish regular maintenance

History of the CIO Role

Origin of the CIO Role
The term CIO came into existence in America in the late 1980s, early 1990s with only 10 per cent of the 4000 IT departments listed in MIS magazine’s database in mid-1990s using the CIO title

Emerging Role of the CIO

Evolution of the CIO Role
The CIO role has evolved through three distinct phases. Just as our thinking on technology has evolved so has the role of the CIO.

  • CIO 1.0: (IT is a resource) First, technology was a utility - used to conduct business. Starting as an “IT Manager” or “Head of IT” or “ EDP Manager” the CIO role was responsible for installing and maintaining computers – hardware, software, networks. Business uses technology. Technology is a utility. CIO 1.0 keeps the technology humming.
  • CIO 2.0: (IT is a strategic resource) As technology evolved to being a competitive asset - used to create competitive advantage, the CIO's responsibility changed from managing computers to making them useful. The expectation of the CIO role became to deploy technology in line with business needs. Second-generation CIOs were expected to create an IT Strategy that supports Business Strategy. Business needs technology. Technology is a strategic asset. Business leads, and the CIO follows closely in sync. CIO 2.0 performs business-IT alignment.
  • CIO 3.0: (IT Drives Competitive Advantage) The advent of internet left businesses flat footed - who was responsible? Could the CIO 2.0, the technology enabler, deal with this catastrophe? Absolutely not. So, how do we deal with the next wave of Disruptive Technology - how do we deal with technology innovation whose pace is accelerating at the speed of light? Hello, CIO 3.0.

Increasingly, the CIO's responsibility is changing from enabling the business to driving innovation. Technology creates markets. Technology is a competitive weapon. CIO 3.0 is a technology-savvy innovator who anticipates the next disrupting technology coming down the pike which has the potential to demolish an organization. S/he informs, educates, and helps adapt/retool the business to deal with the impending threat. Most importantly, s/he creates new opportunities for businesses to leverage emerging technologies to create shareholder value. This is what the new CIO is required to do:

  • Be the Technology Weatherman/Seer: Identify the next disruptive technology in time to take meaningful action
  • Be the Technology Assessor: Assess the damage from this technology to the business before a thing has happened
  • Be the Technology Salesman/Sage: Convince your C-Suite peers on this being the "real" storm
  • Be the Technology Innovator: Identify ways to leverage this new technology to create shareholder value

Emergence of the internet (aka the Dot Com Era)
Large organizations are typically split into subsidiaries and divisions. Each subsidiary and/or division can have a CIO who heads its IT department. The "head of IT" for the overall or parent organization is called Group CIO, and of its divisions, Division CIO

CIO Skills

  • IT Strategy
  • IT Governance
  • E-Business
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • IT Operations
  • IT Sourcing
  • Leadership

CIO Training

Different Titles for the CIO Role

In addition to CIO, the "head of IT" role is assigned many different job titles including, but not limited to, the following

  • Head of IT
  • Head of ICT
  • IT Manager
  • Department Head, IT
  • Senior Vice President (IT)
  • Vice President (IT)
  • IT Director

CIO Reporting Relationship

CIO commonly reports to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), or Chief Operating Officer (COO). With the advent of the internet and the deep interconnection between marketing and IT, of late, CIO role is starting to report to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or alternatively, the roles of CIO and CMO are merging onto the role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).


A CIO is a strategist, a CTO is a technologist.

  • CIO role concerns itself with using technology to create business value with a focus on business IT Alignment
  • CTO role concerns itself with the effective and efficient deployment of technology with a focus on architecture

These distinctions are arbitrary so the roles are used interchangeably and increasingly being ignored with the CTO role morphing into the Enterprise Architect role and the CIO becoming the head of IT. In some organizations, CTO is given to the head of the entire IT department. In others, the CTO reports to the CIO. On rare occasion a CIO job title reports to the CTO job title.

Indeed, the differences between the CIO and CTO roles have many different takes. Here is one: [3]

  • The Chief Information Officer (CIO)

The CIO is internally faced and focused on the company’s bottom line – how to improve internal communication, PMO management, and process control. The CIO is generally focused on improving the efficiency of internal processes in order to guarantee effective communication, maximize productivity, and keep the organization running efficiently. This is an operations role and since it is internally facing the CIO is typically responsible for Infrastructure, Service Delivery, PMO, etc.

  • The Chief Technical Officer (CTO)

The CTO is really a customer-facing role (surprised?) and is focused on the company’s top line. The CTO ensures that the company is implementing technologies that enhance product development. The CTO is generally responsible for the engineering team and employing a technical strategy to improve the end product (thus customer-facing). This is a strategic role and the CTO is responsible for leveraging new technologies to enhance the product (which can include infrastructure as well but only as it relates to the product and not the internal IT operations).

Transformative CIO[4]

For IT to become a driver of value, the transformative CIO needs a new set of skills and capabilities that embody a more expansive role. In working on tech transformations with hundreds of CIOs, McKinsey & Co. identified five CIO traits that they believe are markers of success. These skills are the tools that enable a CIO’s ability to transform IT. And in an increasingly tech-driven business landscape, they position CIOs as legitimate contenders to lead businesses as well.

  • Business leader: To help technology generate business value, the transformative CIO has to understand business strategy. Companies with top IT organizations are much more likely than others to have the CIO very involved with shaping the Business Strategy and agenda, and strong performance on core IT tasks enables faster progress against a company’s digital goals. CIOs who can make this leap tend to take the following actions.
    • Learn the business inside and out: The scope of an IT transformation means that CIOs must be prepared to interact with the business in different ways. We have found, for example, that the best CIOs go far beyond meeting with the C-suite or attending strategy meetings. They invest time with functional and business-unit leaders and managers to gain an in-depth understanding of business realities on the ground and go out of their way to develop a nuanced and detailed understanding of customer issues. CIOs do this by continually reviewing customer satisfaction reports, regularly monitoring customer-care calls, and participating in user forums to hear direct feedback.
    • Take responsibility for initiatives that generate revenue: CIOs can further develop business acumen by taking responsibility for initiatives that generate business impact, such as building an e-commerce business, or by working with a business-unit leader to launch a digital product and then measure success by business-impact key performance indicators (KPIs), not technology KPIs. Such efforts allow CIOs to build a deep understanding of the business implications of technology, such as customer abandonment because of slow download times on a site or other poor user experiences.
    • Get on boards: Developing a deeper well of business knowledge often requires CIOs to extend their networks beyond the organization. One of the best ways to do that is by joining the board of another company. A third of the boards of companies within the Fortune 500 today include a former CIO or CTO, and that number continues to increase.
  • Change Agent: A full technology transformation is not about moving to the cloud or embracing new IT solutions. It also involves infusing technology into every strategy discussion and process throughout the organization. Driving a transformation around the three vectors of reimagining the role of technology, reinventing technology delivery, and future-proofing the foundation, starts with a CIO mind-set that both acknowledges the need for transformative change and commits to a multiyear journey.
    • Partner with business leaders: Generating support for a transformation among business leaders across the organization requires creating true partnering relationships with them based on common goals, mutual responsibility, and accountability. According to a McKinsey survey on business technology, in fact, the companies in which IT plays a partner role in digital initiatives are further along in both implementation and achieving business impact. Gaining support for a transformation requires that stakeholders understand that true change will come only from tackling all three transformation vectors in a strategic, interlinked manner. That means not just explaining how this three-pronged approach is better for IT but also clarifying how it drives business goals and how it can be implemented. When considering a shift to cloud, for example, executives tend to understand it first as a cost-saving opportunity. But in helping executives understand the full range of cloud benefits—improved speed to market, better developer productivity, and improved resiliency and disaster recovery—CIOs can help them see how the cloud can unlock new revenue models and services tied to business priorities.
    • Have an integrated plan that highlights risks and dependencies beyond IT: Large IT initiatives have always required detailed planning, but business-oriented CIOs ensure that transformation plans account for dependencies outside of IT, such as marketing campaigns or legal implications. They approach planning as a dynamic process rather than something static, which allows transformation teams to better remove roadblocks and to allocate people and spend when and where they are needed. To actively manage this process, such CIOs also put in place a “war room,” a dedicated team that ensures transformation initiatives are delivering value by actively tracking progress and helping to break through root-cause issues.
  • Talent Scout: CIOs need to focus not just on recruiting top people but also on retaining them. Two solutions have proven effective.
    • Reimagine how to attract tech stars: Companies can reap tremendous benefits from outsourcing. In the oil and gas industry, for example, the outsourcing of application development grew 50 percent between 2014 and 2018. But that needs to change, especially around the most crucial capabilities. CIOs who want to reinvent tech’s role need tech stars, particularly the best engineers. By hiring the best tech people, we’ve seen companies reduce their technology costs by as much as 30 percent while maintaining or improving their productivity. CIOs need to move quickly. In just 18 months, one CIO at a transportation-and-logistics company radically reshaped its talent profile. All the direct reports and approximately 50 percent of tech employees were new, and 80 percent had transitioned to different roles.
    • Build up Internal Talent: Getting good people doesn’t matter if you can’t keep them. Top CIOs, therefore, develop diverse career paths so that top talent can advance in their own areas of strength—for example, by letting a top-notch software engineer advance while continuing to code design software rather than forcing her to manage others in order to succeed. Retraining the existing tech workforce also needs to be an important element of this platform. The CIO of a large consumer company made digital and analytics upskilling one of the company’s key strategic priorities, launching an enterprise-wide program, in tandem with HR’s learning team. The program invested in an online learning portal to create personalized online learning experiences based on an employee’s goals and learning needs. These were supplemented by other programs, including in-person training, top management immersion sessions, and the cultivation of an in-house expert network that people could tap on specific topics.
  • Culture Revolutionary: An effective talent strategy requires a culture that supports talent.
    • Build a true engineering community: Pay matters, of course, but top people want to go where they’re valued. One way to create that kind of environment is to provide engineers with more autonomy by reducing the number of managers and often-bureaucratic processes, such as time-consuming reports and multiple rounds of approval. Creating ways for cohorts of similar skill sets to get together can be a powerful way to share best practices and foster a sense of community.
    • Model and support true collaboration: Promoting collaboration across technology teams and between the business and technology is one of the most crucial prerequisites for a successful transformation. Top-quartile IT organizations are more likely to have an integrated or fully digital operating model. In practice, CIOs can enable collaboration if they’re willing to relinquish some control. One CIO at a financial-services firm realized that for his people to increase their impact, they had to be more closely tied to business teams. So he embedded them into cross-functional teams aligned around specific products, relying on informal networks of guilds and chapters to provide guidance and light oversight. The most effective CIOs ensure this level of collaboration is the norm within IT itself as well. This is particularly important around cybersecurity. IT can radically reduce cycle times and maintain effective security by incorporating security early into development and working closely with the cybersecurity team on an ongoing basis.
  • Tech Translator: In the past, IT transformations have often proven expensive, time consuming, and short on value, and this has made some companies leery of undertaking them again. To address this issue and build trust, the best CIOs play an active role in educating leaders about technologies and their applications for the business.
    • Make the business implications of tech decisions clear: Many tech decisions don’t get sufficient business scrutiny beyond cost and high-level strategy discussions. Transformative CIOs don’t settle for that kind of interaction, articulating instead how a proposed solution solves the underlying business problem, what alternative approaches exist, and the pros and cons of each. The CEO of a B2B technology-services company found this level of insight so important that he asked the CIO to present periodically to the board on technology-led business models.

See Also

  1. Leadership
  2. IT Management (Information Technology Management)
  3. IT Governance
  4. Enterprise Architecture
  5. Business IT Alignment
  6. Digital Transformation (DX)
  7. Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
  8. CISO (Chief Information Security Officer)
  9. IT Project Management
  10. IT Operations (Information Technology Operations)
  11. Information Technology Roadmap
  12. Data Privacy
  13. Data Security
  14. Change Management
  15. Strategic Alignment


  1. What is the Main job of the CIO? The Balance Careers
  2. CIO Job Description BetterTeam
  3. CIO Vs. CTO - What's the Difference
  4. The Five Traits of a Transformative Chief Information Officer McKinsey