Analysts Explore the Changing Role of the CIO

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Gartner Survey: Digital Workers, Technology Investments

CIOs, who come a from technology background, do not always understand how to effectively communicate with their CEOs, who often come from a sales environment. Gartner, Inc. said. CIOs must establish a strategic partnership with their CEO to become a strategic business partner and secure a seat at the strategy table.


Most CIOs seek approval, rather than inviting their CEOs to participate in the IT decision-making process. “This nonengaging conversation with the CEO causes disengagement and is at the center of the many challenges that CIOs face,” said Leigh McMullen, research vice president at Gartner. “This can lead CEOs to view the IT department as a service provider, rather than as a strategic business partner, which in turn, can lead to reduced IT budget and a lack of CIO involvement in the making of decisions that affect business outcomes.”

Gartner analysts are discussing the changing role of the CIO in the digital world this week during Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, which is taking place here until Friday.

According to Gartner research, CEOs continue to rank IT as an important strategic asset and as a means through which they can innovate. “While CIOs are trying to influence future investment choices or increase IT’s credibility and business value, having an engaging conversation with their CEO is critical to being viewed as their CEO’s ‘close confidantes’,” said Mr McMullen. “And it starts by recognizing what’s important to your CEO.”


Establish a Strategic Partnership with CEOs by Linking Conversations to Business Outcomes, Metrics, Benefits and Real Choices

Innovative ideas can go a long way, but if they don’t align with the company’s business objectives or metrics for which the CEO is held accountable, they won’t go far. CIOs need to link their conversation to their CEO’s most important business problems, challenges or concerns. “Anything that seems even remotely like a problem should be captured,” said Mr. McMullen.

For example, the CEO of a major global bank expressed concern that the bank was getting too big, and that it was losing the local market connections of the regional banks it was buying. “While this isn’t a problem a CIO can do anything about directly, framing technology solutions in the context of a business problem will resonate strongly,” he added.


In addition, CIOs need to engage in conversations with their CEO that offer real choices and demonstrate understanding of the overall enterprise strategy. “The conversation the CIO has with the CEO should therefore include how to improve profit margin and gain competitive advantage,” said Mr. McMullen.

Structure Conversations and Reframe Role to Become a Strategic Partner to the CEO

Once CIOs have a solid understanding of their CEO’s business objectives, it’s also important to structure conversations with their CEO at the right level and in the right context.

“Like most people, CEOs are motivated by what’s good for them and what’s good for everyone, and CIOs need to understand which kind of motivation drives their CEO,” said McMullen. “The other key factor in decision making is the need for certainty. CIOs also need to determine the degree of evidence and the amount of data or proof points their CEO needs in order to be confident in making the decision.”

Above all, digitalization is giving CIOs the opportunity to change their role from approval seeker to a contributor with a seat at the strategy table. “Digital disruption has placed technology at the heart of most business discussions. By exploiting the digital changes that lie ahead, CIOs can have a real influence and be regarded by CEOs as an important strategic business confidant and partner,” said Mr. McMullen.

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