Business Transformation: CEOs Demand More.


The Gist

  • Evolving roles. CIOs transition from operational managers to strategic partners, aligning technology with business goals.
  • CEO expectations. Post-pandemic, CIOs face increased expectations to drive business transformation and digital innovation.
  • C-suite partnerships. Effective collaboration with C-suite and business unit heads is crucial for managing expectations.

In the crucible of the pandemic, CIOs emerged not just as tech managers but as pivotal players at the leadership table, having proven their mettle in navigating unprecedented challenges and business transformation. Yet, as the dust settled, the bar was raised; they now faced the pressing task of overhauling both customer and employee experiences, while managing expectations.

And CMOs and customer experience experts remember what Tiffani Bova said in “The Experience Mindset”: “Pleasing customers is about more than simply putting customers first, it has to start with a healthy, engaged and productive employee base.” For this reason, their dual challenges matter to you as well.

Amidst the incessant drumbeat of digital disruption, CIOs are also under pressure to evolve from mere participants to visionaries, steering their organizations through the tumultuous seas of digital business transformation. The question that looms large is: How can CIOs master the art of managing expectations to become the heralded architects of change and recognized leaders in the digital arena?

Managing Expectations: CEO View of CIOs

The role of the CIO in the eyes of a CEO should be as a critical functionary. While the traditional view of the CIO as a steward of cost-center operations persists, a shift is clearly underway. Increasingly, CIOs are crossing the chasm from operational overseers to pivotal strategists.

Yet, the transformation is not uniform, the spectrum ranges widely. Manhattanville College CIO, Jim Russell says, “CIOs are still split between being perceived as a cost center and viewed as a strategic partner that is essential for achieving the CEO’s vision. That is better than when the majority thought of CIOs as just a dial tone service.”

Breaking Through

In some organizations, CIOs are breaking through the back-office barriers, stepping into the limelight as architects of innovation, their counsel sought after in the quest to steer the company through the digital tempest. First CIO Deb Gildersleeve claims, “I think we’ve moved beyond pure cost center but haven’t fully made our way to strategic partner in most cases. Too many CIOs are still viewed as leading a back-office function, an important one but internally focused.”

CMOs can clearly help here.

Harbingers of Change

However, smart CIOs are becoming the harbingers of change, the navigators of “blue oceans,” capable of repeatedly guiding their ships through transformational tides. In contrast, others remain anchored in the role of “keeping the lights on,” their potential to influence and reshape the business landscape untapped, like covered wagons mired in the mud, struggling to join the vanguard of progress. These CIOs, says manufacturing CIO Joanne Friedman, “are fully in the seat at the table, others relegated to lights on roles, and a select few, as a CEO threat.”

Hand of captain, who is wearing an orange jacket, on steering wheel of motor boat in the blue ocean in piece about CIOs managing expectations of CEOs.
Smart CIOs are becoming the harbingers of change, the navigators of “blue oceans,” capable of repeatedly guiding their ships through transformational tides.Aleksei on Adobe Stock Photos

Opportunity for Expansion

The discerning CEO knows the difference and sees in the CIO a potential ally. As the digital frontier expands, so too does the opportunity for CIOs to evolve from operational managers to indispensable partners in achieving a CEO’s vision, a transition that could very well mark the dividing line between organizations poised for perpetual reinvention and those struggling to adapt.

New Zealand CIO Anthony McMahon says he’s seeing two trends. “One is where the CIO is seen as an enabler to the business and the CEO is constantly seeking their advice. The second is where things have always been done this way. Where this occurs, the CIO is still tucked away under finance and treated as a cost center.”

Related Article: What Does It Mean to Be a Digitally Savvy CIO?

Business Transformation: Managing Increasing CEO Expectations

In the wake of the pandemic, the mantle of the CIO has become one of navigating heightened expectations. The scope of their role has been recalibrated by the very organizations they serve, with the scale tipping differently for each. Smaller entities, still in the throes of post-pandemic recovery, may anchor their CIOs to the helm of cost centers.

Yet, others, more financially buoyant, have propelled their CIOs toward the strategic vanguard, aligning technology with the company’s broader ambitions. The litmus test often lies in the reporting lines: Those CIOs reporting directly to the top echelons signify an organization placing technology at the heart of their strategy.

A Return to Fundamentals

For many CIOs, this period has been a return to fundamentals, demanding a proactive stance to not only reassess the present landscape but also to recalibrate the directional compass toward future needs. Russell says, “So much depends upon the organization’s needs and capacity. For me, where the CIO reports show the truth. Direct reporting matters. Most CIOs have had to re-assess and re-measure where their organizations are and where they need to go. But it’s not just COVID driving this. Today, we are drawn to assess new technology and blend that with the CEO’s vision. To do this, CIOs still need the basic of knowledge of the organization but now leading more urgent change vision.”

A Pivotal Shift

This pivotal shift is not just a consequence of the pandemic. A confluence of forces, including industry disruption, the advent of generative AI and evolving business models, has catalyzed this business transformation. For CIOs, the task at hand is not merely about understanding the organization’s fabric but weaving new patterns of change, integrating emerging technologies with the CEO’s vision. According to Gildersleeve, the pandemic highlighted the importance of technology for maintaining work operations. Various solutions were explored to ensure continuity, while also maintaining existing systems and processes.


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