For years, the evolution of the CIO role was straight and steady. IT leaders knew exactly what was expected of them: to perform a great portfolio of technical tasks with the ultimate goal of smoothly orchestrated technology operations — within a prescribed budget. The best-in-class CIO profile was a person who could oversee an organization’s applications and infrastructure, a complex role that required a savvy candidate highly skilled in leadership and communication. But at its heart, a CIO's job description was straightforward: to be a functional head of technology.
In the last few years, that job description has pivoted dramatically. Suddenly, being a functional manager is not enough. Technology is no longer considered simply an operational leader for companies, but a value creator, the primary driver of digital transformation, with the CIO in a central business role. Today, CIOs are expected to be agents of change.
“Suddenly the CIO as an agent of change is the new expectation.”
— Shawn Banerji
The emerging and evolving CIO job description
Shawn Banerji has been sourcing premier CIO candidates for over 25 years. As a managing partner for Caldwell Partners, one of the fastest growing executive search and assessment firms, Banerji helps clients identify the precise talent to help them achieve their desired business outcomes in an increasingly digital world. In recent years, he’s seen the attributes and competencies in the traditional CIO toolkit become less relevant to the emerging CIO paradigm of transformational leadership.
“The new generation of CIO,” says Banerji, “Consists of individuals transcending technology as an operating lever and process tool, and deploying technology in ways that are fundamentally changing how organizations do business.” This shift is happening because businesses are no longer simply looking to automate their existing processes or digitize their revenue sources. Today, they’re looking to create innovative new business models and build atop the capabilities suddenly inherent with technology, particularly cloud-based platforms and SaaS (software as a service) tools.
"We’re no longer talking about simply automating standard business processes and automating them through technology. Now, it’s about looking at the business and looking to holistically re-architect it.”
— Shawn Banerji
Today, every company is a digital company
Many of Banerji’s clients now consider their businesses to be technology companies even if they’re in retail, healthcare or finance verticals. With the ability to aggregate data and information resources drastically more robust than even a few years ago, CIOs are now able to build platforms they can use to disrupt the status quo of entire industries. Companies look to their CIOs to be active leaders in creating competitive advantage.
“The ability to aggregate data and information [...] is something that the CIO can take ownership of to raise their stature in an organization.”
— Shawn Banerji
This is a major shift for CIOs used to making technology decisions as a reaction to existing business mandates. Many of these leaders come from a “buy, implement, integrate” approach based on figuring out which existing technology options will best serve the standing business needs. But today’s climate requires more of an “engineer, then build” approach — custom-designing solutions and building technology stacks from best-in-class third-party providers in order to drive real business change within an organization. "They're building differentiated, often bespoke solutions," says Banerji, "And then deploying them as an enabler to business — as a way to generate new revenue or even disrupt the organization."
To compete in this new landscape, CIOs need to be as close to the customer as possible, whether the organization is primarily B2B or B2C. They have to be able to look at the business through, as Banerji puts it, “an omni lens,” with insight into all the channels through which the business interacts with customers: the website, a call center, a physical location and any other potential touch points. Once far removed from customer relationships, CIOs must now deeply understand customers and make decisions based on what will engage and delight them most effectively.
C-level technology titles morph and merge
Traditionally, Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) were subordinate to Chief Information Officers (CIOs), but Banerji and his colleagues have seen this hierarchy flatten and sometimes even swap over the last few years. While CIOs once ran the systems and owned the application portfolio, CTOs used to be accountable for infrastructure and operations. “Now,” says Banerji, “the CTO can morph into a product engineering and marketing profile. That person is being invited into product conversations, and even driving the strategic agenda, responsible for ideation and vision,” while the CIO “is often making sure the trains run on time and the lights come on when they’re supposed to.”
Operations is a process-driven approach; at the other end of the spectrum is innovation, which is engineering-driven. When filling C-level technology roles, Banerji looks for candidates who can straddle this entire spectrum and do both ends well. “This is absolutely the most exciting time to be in functional technology,” says Banerji. “There are unparalleled opportunities to impact your organization and your industry, and by an order of magnitude more significant that just two years ago.”
In varying roles at the upper echelon of enterprise, Chief Information Officers (CIOs), Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and even Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) are all transcending technology and acting as business drivers and decision makers. Those who have the courage and vision, combined with the ability to execute, are looking at a very, very bright future.
“It takes vision and corresponding courage to take the necessary steps to push the organization forward on this digital journey.”
— Shawn Banerji
The blueprint for transitioning CIOs into change agents
- Actively engage the leadership of your organization to understand where it sits on the digital maturity continuum.
- Shift your technology mindset from a “buy, implement, integrate” approach to an “engineer, then build” approach using best-in-class third-party providers
- Connect CIOs to customers more directly so they have insight into how to best engage and delight.
About Shawn Banerji
Shawn Banerji is the Managing Partner for the Technology, Digital and Data Leaders practice at Caldwell Partners. He specializes in recruiting and assessing change leaders who can use technology to reset the value propositions at their organizations. Prior to Caldwell Partners, Banerji was a leader in the Technology Officers Practice and Russell Reynolds Associates.