Rethinking the CIO: From IT Leader to Business Leader

CIO-Innovation2014RESIZEForget the old notions of what a CIO should be.

That’s because in today’s technology-reliant business environment, the role of the CIO is evolving. CIOs and aspiring CIOs — thanks to the rise of cloud computing, mobility, Big Data, apps, and other technology — are in prime position to grow their leadership roles and really make a difference in the business.

Two particular areas of opportunity for CIOs are innovation and operations. Let’s take a look at why these areas are so important.


For chief information officers, innovation should be a core function. So much so that it wouldn’t be a stretch to start thinking of the CIO as the “chief innovation officer.”

The days of the CIO only managing an organization’s servers, networks, software, and computers and other devices are over. Today, CIOs are finding new ways to use technology to boost business. These facts from a recent Gartner study are telling, NetApp executive Mike Ridley tells ITWeb:

  • 49 percent of CIOs say they are positioned to promote game-changing innovations.
  • 26 percent of CIOs say they were able to be innovation leaders three years ago.

Big Data is another way for CIOs to use innovation for the betterment of the business. The CIO must take the lead in developing or buying solutions to help analyze all the information businesses are collecting. After the data is collected, the CIO should help find ways for the business use it to the most benefit.


When it comes to operations, CIOs are at an advantage. That’s because the traditional role was all about IT operations, like running a data center and other infrastructure, and managing the people whose job it is to pay attention to the details. As part of the larger organization, the CIO helps create an agile business by ensuring agile IT.

Additionally, CIOs should be thinking about how IT supports business operations as a whole. The expanded role of the CIO should include tailoring IT to the areas the company wants to improve or launch.

“Companies need to increase — not decrease — their spending on IT and related services,” Michael Hugos, principal at the Center for Systems Innovation, tells FierceCIO. “This is because business operations have merged with the technology that supports those operations.”

The bottom line is business today depends on technology. So, CIOs are integral to business success. IT leaders not only have to be versed in IT, they have to know how it fits into the bigger business picture — and then be a leader in using, innovating, and transforming it.

How else can CIOs and aspiring CIOs evolve their roles to improve business?

Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

  1. Great post Rob!
    My 2 pennies:
    As IAAS becomes a bigger and better solution for most companies, CIOs can begin to really concentrate on building/configuring/implementing solutions that are pushing the envelope for their businesses. Removing the requirement of having legions of “blinky light watchers” clears up a boat load of time and resources to move the needle in new innovative ways. Here at Trupanion we are actively finding ways to reduce KTLO activities so we are spending our very expensive IT resources on the things that matter to us most. Which leads me to a reflection on the “innovation officer” part. As an extension of the above efforts, we’ve been able to attract very different talent where innovation is a key trait our employees must be able to demonstrate. Innovation has to be steeped into each person in IT for innovation to truly occur. This requires a CIO to also be a savvy eye for talent and people that innovate for breakfast. When innovation is a part of the culture, there will never be a need for an “innovation department” or some other such thing. Once the whole team is comprised of such people, the CIO is almost guaranteed bright innovative ideas being placed on his/her desk each day.

  2. Andreas Fellner

    I absolutely agree with the article. CIO’s main value-add is innovation and the flawless execution of the implementation projects and efficient operation. The main challenge is still the agility of IT to support business changes that need to be reflected in IT systems and infrastructure.