The Changing Role of the CIO-Revisited

Art Sebastiano, CIO, SharkNinja

There have been many articles written on the changing role of the CIO. We have all seen them, and read them, and generally we agree with the main points brought forth in them. The CIO is an innovator, the CIO is a collaborator, and the CIO is leading the transformation, and so on. Yet no one has ever discussed the changing role of the CIO from the tech guy or girl who understands all of the black box that is IT, and can translate it for them, to the simple fact that the CIO is now one of the smartest in the room.

Think that is a stretch? Let’s do a review and see where things fall. 

The CIO needs to understand how to budget for complex projects that include aspects of capital, operating expenses and the timing of those expenses. They must ensure their team properly follows the opening, closing, and receiving of products and services to guarantee that the project has the proper impact and timing to the company’s operating results.

The CIO needs to review contracts and MSA’s with key strategic vendors to safeguard the company’s intellectual property, customer data and make sure that privacy issues are taken into consideration. They must verify that the business units conducting the services have the proper operating processes in place to ensure risk, compliance integrity, proper credit card encryption, tokenization, and validate contact center personnel are pausing recordings of customer calls. Access to customer data must be secure allowing only authorized personnel visibility to that information.

The CIO needs to confirm that proposed business expansion takes into consideration the changing Data Privacy laws; that data remains in the countries that it is supposed to – even though you may have a cloud based follow-the-sun operation with in-region support. Vetting the right partner to make sure they have accounted for that in their business model is critical, taking their word isn’t enough.

Today’s CIO needs to demonstrate cost savings and efficiency derived from consistent operating models and standardized systems supporting them to the COO before he/she will engage in a discussion of how to change operations.

CIO’s are often asked to provide the IT Strategy or Vision when one has not been created or communicated for the organization. In my career I have participated in a number of turnarounds; I have been hired to rebuild the IT organization and deliver critical projects. As I met with executive leadership each one had a list of high level issues they want addressed for their department. None of them focused around process changes to ensure success. Beyond the conversations that usually started with “we need a system to…” there was no strategy that aligned all of these initiatives.

To be effective the CIO needs to know and understand their business partners’ functional areas (Finance, Marketing, Sales, ecommerce, Operations, Human Resources) so that we can be seen as a “good business partner”. We are also expected to have 100 percent knowledge of our current business area and technology that can both solve our issues and can be impactful for the organization. No other business partner has to understand the CIO’s area.

Many times executive leaders plan their budgets and identify solutions needed in isolation, have socialized them with their team or with the CEO before validating if they can even be delivered. Does the company have the right technology platform or skills to ensure success? IT is involved late and the perception is that IT is not trying to make things happen, when in reality it is exactly the opposite. The CIO is trying to ensure success.

Some would say “That’s because the CIO doesn’t have good business relationships with their peers.” “The CIO should be in there up front and know because they are having regular conversations with the respective business leaders.” Often the CIO is the one reaching out, asking the questions, educating and gaining alignment. You can’t solve a problem that you can’t define and if your business leaders need help in defining their problems so they can be solved then why are they in their roles? Strategy is not a two person conversation. Business leadership today values action and in many cases those actions are the same ones used five, ten or fifteen years ago. Markets have changed and though the problems may appear similar, how they are solved is now very different.

A CIO knows how the company operates, the interaction of the various departments, the flow of data and information, and the challenges of the markets and the consumers to deliver to their expectations—we have to be more knowledgeable in order to do our job effectively. We know how the digital world is changing and what those changes are driving into our organizations. We understand that security of our IP, customer and employee data is paramount.

Finally, collaboration can be a dirty word for CIOs. Companies looking to fill critical IT leadership positions are looking for a CIO who can be collaborative with the business. Today that is code for: get everyone on the same page with respect to the top issues that are facing the company, and get agreement on the prioritization of those issues. Every successful company that has ever been profiled has a recurring theme – successful companies have the entire leadership aligned on those items from the top. In those organizations CIO’s are a part of that strategic discussion and ensure that the priorities and planning can be executed to meet the deliverables.

So I ask you, is it really a stretch that the changing role of the CIO is now that they are one of the smartest in the room? The problem is that most leaders still hasn’t figured this out. Nowadays the joke is that CIO means Career Is Over. It really should be a stepping stone to the CEO. In today’s world, who is better prepared to know how to operate in it?