The digital CIO: How digital technology will change the role of IT leaders

CIOs face both an opportunity and a threat as organisations embrace digital technology.

The rise of cloud computing, social media, mobile technology and data analytics is disrupting existing business models and patterns of employment.

It is raising questions about what role, if any, the CIO will play in digital innovation. Will they be leading the digital revolution, or will they be relegated to running the infrastructure?

The question is becoming urgent as a growing number of companies appoint chief digital officers (CDOs) from outside of IT to lead their digital strategies, rather than CIOs.

But for CIOs who want to make their mark, the rise of digital technology offers the potential to drive the digital strategy of their organisations.

Computer Weekly joined 15 IT leaders from across business and the public sector attending a Digital Academy as they tried to thrash out the implications of digital technology for their organisations.

This is the point that corporate IT as we know it will succeed or fail, digital strategist Ade McCormack (pictured) told the group.

CIOs need credibility

The problem is that CIOs are too often seen as technologists in their organisations, rather than business leaders, said McCormack.

And far too few have a seat in the boardroom. When the CEO asks the CIO for a meeting, it's more likely to be to discuss a problem with their laptop than to discuss strategy.

“The word CIO is an HR mistake in many cases – it's better to call an IT manager an IT manager," he said.

Yet CIOs do have an opportunity to reclaim the initiative on digital technology in the organisation, if they can show their business credibility.

And that is about far more than talking the language of business rather than technology. It means learning to be smarter about senior level politics.

“CIOs are very clever, very left brain, and often very egotistical. They think, 'I know IT, I am intelligent, I must be right',” he said. “But sometimes it's better to be smart than to be right.”

Board meetings are not as daunting as most CIOs think, said Brinley Platts, founder and chairman of coaching and training organisation, CIO Development, which trains and mentors senior IT professionals. “Don’t think that everyone in the C-suite is a genius, because they are not,” he said.

CIOs can and should be on the board, said Platts. “If you a CIO and you are not on the board and you are not in the conversation, the business is sub-optimal and they don’t realise it.”