The shape-shifting role of the ‘new’ CIO

IT leaders are expected to craft a new business model around platform-based ecosystems while building strategic partnerships and spotting (and engaging) new talent. Here’s how the role of CIO is changing and how their departments can keep up.


Being a CIO in 2019 is kind of like being James Bond.

When you’re a chief information officer, every move you make is potentially (in corporate thrive-or-merely-survive terms) do-or-die. Exotic travel is not unheard of. High tech gadgetry? Absolutely. You must protect your enterprise assets from the constant threat of attacks, many of which originate (in the case of cyber hacks) from Russia (but not, obviously, From Russia With Love).

As CIO, you must keep one eye on your rivals at all times, preemptively striking before they can fell your organization with one swift karate chop to the neck.

Seven actors have portrayed “Bond, James Bond” since 1962 and shifted our perception of the qualities 007 should possess. Similarly, “the CIO job has been re-imagined time and time again due to technology change. Now it’s due to business change,” according to Irving Tyler, a VP of research at Gartner.

In his presentation at this year’s CIO Peer Forum in Toronto, Tyler sketched a detailed picture of the ‘new’ CIO, and what this shape-shifting role demands in 2019.

Need for speed

Today’s CIO is expected to make decisions, take action and get results fast. The pace of business has accelerated dramatically to match the speed of technological change, and the CIO has got to keep up.

“Strategy used to be a 10-year (projection). Strategy now is a three-month exercise,” Tyler said. “Today, (10 years) just doesn’t work. Strategies have to be immediate and we have to be in continuous strategic development mode.”

Strategist vs. technologist

The CIO’s shift from IT procurer to business enabler has been going on for nearly a decade. In 2019, the CIO moves from deploying, configuring and integrating IT in the backoffice to a centre-stage role: determining how technology can help the company create value, then helping it design new business models around that.

“Your job is to translate digital ambitions into powerful digital business designs,” Tyler said.

The new CIO must “establish the big picture digital vision,” he continued — a vision that revolves around developing platforms and ecosystems rather than just products and solutions.

Connector-in-chief

Tyler said the Old School mentality of competitive silos is gone. It’s an ecosystem game now, and the CIO must identify key players (even rivals) who can help the company thrive in the interlocking platform economy. You aren’t just creating a product to grow sales, you’re bringing together elements to build a killer platform that can own as many lucrative pieces of the ecosystem pie as possible.

That includes spotting startups that could pose a threat, and then acquiring — or, yes, even partnering with — them.

“You’ve got to go out and find all these actors and bring them all together in your leadership team,” said Tyler. “They’re not going to work for you or be part of your (internal) IT team; they’re going to be part of your business model.”

Talent scout

“Your job is to define, acquire and develop the critical talent needed (in order) for every business capability to create and deliver at scale,” said Tyler.

Today’s CIOs must broaden the scope of their search for talent. In fact, said Tyler, the talent you really need may not even work in IT at all. Once you find these elusive unicorns, they may prefer to work as freelancers or contractors instead of signing on as employees — and that’s just fine.

“You have to develop an agency mindset (of) connecting everyone you can possibly imagine and creating intelligence,” Tyler advised.

After the CIO gets these people onboard, he or she must also “make their organization understand the talent” and “create meaningful work” for them, according to Tyler.

The CIO stretch

Let’s recap. The new CIO is supposed to craft a new business model revolving around platform-based ecosystems; build strategic partnerships that may include rivals; spot hot new talent; find out what keeps that new talent inspired; make sure the organization ‘gets’ what makes that new talent tick; oh, and make this all happen pronto.

If that sounds daunting to you, you’re not alone.

As Tyler acknowledged to the Peer Forum attendees, “One time when I gave this presentation, a client said, ‘This is the scariest presentation I’ve ever seen in my career.’”

To quell those fears, Tyler offered this reassurance to CIOs in the crowd: “You don’t have to know everything. You just have to help your partners explore all these options.”

The pressures and responsibilities faced by today’s CIOs are boiled down into this sentence from a TechTarget article on the changing CIO role: “As business processes have become more digitalized and customers become digital data points, the CIO’s reach and portfolio have expanded, some would argue to a breaking point.”

The CIO job might not be broken. But like the plot line of a 007 movie, it’s definitely being stretched.

Image: Laurence Dutton/iStock

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