Understanding the role of the modern CIO

Is the CIO a bridge builder, the engineer who designs the bridge, or the forecaster of the bridge’s toll revenues?

The answer is that the CIO’s role is a combination of all these functions. Over the last couple of years, CIOs have transformed from fulfilling functional, technology-operations roles into broader remits, including being strategic change agents who foster business growth.

In fact, Lenovo’s recent global CIO study revealed a staggering 90% of CIOs report their roles and responsibilities have expanded greatly beyond just managing technology. Their influence today extends to areas such as ESG, diversity, equity and inclusion, HR and talent acquisition and even sales and marketing.

Today, many CIOs find themselves in the ‘mission control’ seat of their organizations. The majority (88%) believe their role is the most critical component of their company’s continued operation and 77% believe their performance is more important to the success of their organization than the work of other C-suite roles.

The CIO is increasingly evolving into a more complex role. They need to tackle obstacles that come with expanding digital capabilities while implementing dynamic strategies that improve data collection and protection. But how can the modern CIO cope with an ever-growing list of responsibilities?

Continual digital transformation intensifies pressure

The COVID-19 pandemic set off a rapid acceleration of digital transformation, as companies raced to accommodate remote workers, make business applications accessible to employees, partners and customers, and embrace new technologies. However, the promotion of the CIO to ‘mission control’ was well underway even pre-pandemic.

Digital disruption and emerging technologies were already providing CIOs with more opportunities to innovate internally. By extension, they were called upon to hone their organization’s competitive edge and uplift the customer and employee experience, with over 72% of large businesses and 64% of medium-sized business already having an online and physical presence pre-pandemic.

The rise of remote work during the pandemic accelerated this transformation: 82% said the CIO role has become more challenging compared to two years ago, as they confront a vast array of new challenges, from the increasing use of AI and automation to talent acquisition among a global, remote workforce. Some of the most pressing challenges cited in Lenovo’s study include data privacy and security (66%), cybersecurity and ransomware (66%) and keeping up with technological change (65%).

All of this means that today’s CIOs are under intense pressure to perform and deliver results according to critical business metrics, like creating new business opportunities and revenue streams.

One-way CIOs can tackle these challenges is to ensure their organization’s tech stack is lean and nimble enough to handle complex transformation projects and respond quickly to external threats. In a digitized environment, an unnecessary delay at one discreet point can impact all areas of internal operations.

Fostering partnerships can share the load

Tech vendors can help CIOs manage their priorities by offering an Everything as a Service (EaaS) model for IT hardware, software and services, providing companies of all sizes ultimate operational and technological flexibility. This is especially important as companies strive to deliver innovation and steady growth in the face of economic headwinds.

The EaaS model also frees in-house teams from handling routine and tedious IT processes and infrastructure maintenance. Instead, they can focus on higher-value business initiatives. Simply put, CIOs can spend their time innovating, not managing IT. Recognizing this, if given the opportunity to improve efficiency, 57% of CIOs say they would replace half or more of their company’s current technology. Nearly all (92%) would consider adding new EaaS offerings over the next two years.

An EaaS model also lets businesses benefit from greater cost efficiency, as they only pay for what they need. Moving away from traditional cash purchases and leases and transitioning to such a scalable model is quickly becoming the norm.

By outsourcing infrastructure management to vendors, organizations are shifting from a solely Capital Expense (CAPEX) approach to IT operations, which requires substantial up-front investments to purchase, maintain and upgrade assets. Through working with third parties and utilizing EaaS models, CIOs can now fund these as part of their Operating Expense (OPEX) to support the day-to-day business needs. Finance departments are then able to free up money for other key projects and investments across the business.

What does the CIO of the future look like?

For years, executives have stressed the need for CIOs to move beyond simply managing IT to leveraging technology to create value for the business. This priority is now a requirement. New technologies have been at the center of trends—from mobile-first consumer shopping preferences to the promise of artificial intelligence in critical decision making—that have reshaped the competitive landscape and disrupted business models.

The skill sets that were once needed to manage information will also continue to change. Partnering with tech vendors that offer flexible solutions will be crucial to their success.

About the Author

Arthur Hu is Global CIO at Lenovo. Focused on a bold vision to deliver smarter technology for all, Lenovo has built on its success as the world’s largest PC company by further expanding into key growth areas including server, storage, mobile, solutions and services. This transformation together with Lenovo’s world-changing innovation is building a more inclusive, trustworthy, and sustainable digital society for everyone, everywhere.

Featured image: ©Gorodenkoff