5 Reasons the Responsibilities of a CIO Can’t be a Simple List

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5 Reasons a CIO’s Responsibilities Can’t be Put into a Nutshell

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is a C-suite, high-level executive officer in an enterprise whose role is very dynamic in nature, depending on the industry, and continues to evolve within the context of global businesses in every type of enterprise. CIOs work alongside Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), Chief Operating Officers (COOs), etc., and typically answer to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), though it is not uncommon for a CIO to work under the CFO or COO. That said, the CIO role has evolved over several decades, and during this evolution, the role of the CIO has changed from a hybrid network and IT architect to a true C-level strategic planner. Several studies, such as the CIO 100, have shown that approximately 50 percent of CIOs answer to the CEO, while 19 percent answer to the CFO, a drastic decrease from 2014’s 30 percent. Additionally, there has been an increasing number of CIOs who sit on an enterprise’s board. As reported by the Harvard Business Review and as reported by HR firm Korn Ferry, 31 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a CIO on their board, the number of such companies of which increased by 74 percent in two years, revealing how much the role of CIO has become critical in organizations.

CIOs essentially align the IT infrastructure of an enterprise with the goals and business model of the company, while also helping to manage, strategize, innovate, and secure all IT components to maximize the ROI (return on investment) on all IT systems. CIOs also address all data security risks and threats associated with IT systems, and thus work closely with the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), with the latter typically reporting to the CIO. In dealing with enterprise data, CIOs also work with Chief Data Officers and the utilization of an enterprise’s Big Data and Business Intelligence to plan future strategies. Though the CIO is technically regarded as different than the Chief Digital Officer (in certain businesses), a good CIO often fills the role of CDO as well, helping to innovate and plan the use of novel IT systems to give their enterprise a strategic edge. One of the core roles of a CIO is to ensure the strategic use of IT systems (in order to ensure that the IT infrastructure plays a key role in optimally increasing the bottom line and top line of the company), as opposed to tactically using IT systems for the sole purpose of solving technical and operational issues as they arise. Additionally, while CIOs play a core role in the strategic use and management of IT systems, some CIOs are from a business background with an understanding of IT infrastructures, since the use of technology is to be business-driven and must be aligned with the overarching business model of the enterprise.

It is difficult to “list” the essential tasks associated with a CIO’s responsibilities due to several factors, including: the changing role of the CIO on a global scale, the evolving nature of the CIO in most industries, the specific sub-roles that certain industries would require of a CIO (i.e. one size does not fit all), the broad nature of the CIO position, and the overlapping nature of the CIO’s responsibilities with some other C-level executives, such as the CTO, CDO, CISO, etc. Three essential umbrella roles can be identified that the CIO typically fulfills in a company: Organizational IT strategic planner (including the writing and implementation of the enterprise’s IT strategic plan), IT infrastructure overseer (including overseeing all management associated with the implementation of IT systems), and chief enterprise information manager (which includes the management, securing and risk-assessment of all business information and electronic data). Though most responsibilities fall under one of the above categories, the specific duties of a CIO are difficult to articulate as a simple, end-all list.

As organizations become more digital and IT systems become foundational and fundamental components of enterprises worldwide, businesses need skilled officers. C-level executives who have a background in business and a knowledge of IT will be able to leverage IT systems strategically and turn them into revenue generators that increase the bottom line, so that IT is no longer a support-only cost center. Thus, almost every business needs a Chief Information Officer (CIO). And though a typical CIO job description would include business and IT/strategic planning roles, there are still five core reasons why the major, detailed responsibilities of a CIO are difficult to put into a simplified “list.”

1. They Need to Align the Company’s IT Strategy with Other Departments

The modern Chief Information Officer is the C-level executive in charge of IT directors, VPs, Project Managers, and other technology leaders in an organization. While CIOs were once the go-to person in charge of supporting business workflows and operations relating to IT systems (a support-role), and to make sure that an enterprise’s IT infrastructure was implemented and managed correctly to sustain daily operations, CIOs today operate as key thinkers with regard to formulating an enterprise’s overall business strategy. This is due to the fact that modern technology – and the technology of the future (e.g. Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things, etc.) – has become the foundation of most companies worldwide. This translates to IT being a fundamental factor for a company’s business model, and how an enterprise will run. For that reason, the IT blueprint of an enterprise, the IT strategic plan, is often crafted by a CIO in conjunction with the overall business strategic plan and business model, making CIOs a critical think-tank component within companies in every industry. One of the most critical responsibilities of a CIO is to align all IT systems with the overarching business goals, and to align IT systems and strategies across all business departments of an enterprise.

The specific industry – and the organizational structure – of the company plays a major role with how the CIO accomplishes the above goals, which thus influences the specific responsibilities of the CIO within the company. While most companies have standard departments (i.e. marketing, sales, finance, support, IT), the need to align all IT components with the goals and needs of every department means that there is no universal list of tasks that any and every CIO will need to accomplish.

The Overall Business Operations Strategy

Business operations differ greatly from company to company. Business operations exist to help a company establish how they will meet their goals and fulfill their ultimate vision. Likewise, business workflows, the use of IT systems, and business goals differ between companies. Because of this, as has been noted, the major roles of a CIO are very broad, and can represent more strategic workflows, or more IT/managerial tasks, or can even be more aligned towards dealing with company data/information and security. Since a company’s overarching business operations strategy will typically differ from another company’s operations strategy, the tasks that a CIO will need to carry out can also differ, sometimes greatl

The Information Security Strategy 

CIOs often work alongside CISOs – or take the role of CISOs within a company – in order to assess risks to business data, and to craft, establish, implement and manage all information security policies. To this end, CIOs typically engage in tasks that ensure that a company maintains complete data security, and that a business is complying with all data security legislations.

Every organization that utilizes a comprehensive data security strategy will go about ensuring their data security in a different manner. Just like an enterprise’s operational strategy will differ from another company’s strategy, so IT security strategies will differ from company to company. As each company’s attack surfaces, vulnerabilities and risks may greatly differ, so the work of a CIO/CISO, to ensure complete data security in implementing the IT security strategy, will also differ.

2. The Responsibilities of a CIO can Differ from Industry to Industry

As stated, different industries and companies have unique objectives and needs. Additionally, a CIO is tasked with increasing business efficiency and productivity, with optimizing operations, and with reducing overhead. Enhancing business processes requires detailed information about a company’s daily operations and business processes, all of which can greatly differ across different industries. Thus, the specific roles that a CIO may fulfill in a company often differ greatly based on the specific business processes that the company carries out – which is often based on the industry.

Additionally, certain industries are more digital than others. Since some of the core roles of a CIO is to craft an IT strategic plan, innovate novel IT utilization, and oversee the use of IT to optimize business operations, the specifics of how digital an industry is plays a large part in establishing the role of the CIO in a given company. While most businesses use network systems, software, workstations, servers, and other basic computing components in their IT infrastructure, according to research conducted by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), not only do companies that strategically use digital assets more have better growth, productivity and profit margins, some sectors differed greatly in their use of digital assets when compared with other sectors across the U.S. economy. Unsurprisingly, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), media and finance sectors utilized IT/digital assets the most, while sectors such as government, agriculture, construction and hospitality used ICT systems much less. The key takeaway is that different sectors, which use digital assets differently, will require a CIO to operate in a (potentially) very different manner within the organization, based on its industry.

3. They Need Space to Be Innovative

As technology rapidly evolves, operating in a company devoid of a technology roadmap often means that a company’s executives will not fully know how to leverage novel technologies in a way that can help the company gain an edge, or keep up with the competition. Thus, when executives don’t have a plan for how to integrate new technology into a business, or how to respond to unpredictable or disruptive technology, that is usually a sign it is time to craft a technology roadmap.

As has been noted, the Chief Digital Officer’s duties are often carried out by the Chief Information Officer. A CIO/CDO’s main innovation duties include strategically innovating the use of novel IT systems to help the business grow, and helping to collaborate the use of all digital assets that an enterprise may require, such that all of the disjointed, departmental digital assets work together in a uniform, optimal fashion.

For a CIO to truly have the ability to innovate the use of digital assets in a company, a detailed “list” of duties should not be supplied, as such a list might decrease his/her ability to think outside of the box. Essentially, CIOs need space in order to carry out three major, innovation tasks:

  • Transformation: While CIOs oversee the use of IT to ensure that all business operations continue to run optimally on a daily basis, they also focus on the strategic development of the company, and on ensuring the scalability of its IT infrastructure.
  • Novel Digital Assets: While helping the business grow, CIOs help to strategically innovate the use of new IT systems/technologies, and often craft new ways to enhance business processes via novel uses of current IT systems. In order to do this, CIOs need to look towards the future and make important decisions, as trends change and new technologies emerge.
  • Collaboration: In conjunction with the use of novel IT systems, CIOs help to ensure that all digital assets within a company – including new ones – work together across all company departments in an efficient manner.

In conjunction with above, it is important to note how innovation also differs across industries, based on the typical IT infrastructure of different business sectors. For instance, when innovating, different industries will require different Intellectual Property (IP) policies and organizational structures, while different innovative products/services often require different ICT systems (or similar systems used in very different ways), which will typically be related to the industry. Thus, CIOs must truly be business-specific executive Officers who should work according to the specific needs of the company and in a way that will benefit the enterprise.

4. They Always Need to Be Developing New Skills

As new technologies emerge, companies often hope to harness and leverage new systems in order to establish strategic differentiators, increase efficiency/productivity, and to offer new products and services. For instance, with the advent of the Internet of Things, companies were able to conduct daily operations in a completely novel way, while also offering new products and/or services to end-users. Thus, with new technologies comes changes to the dynamic company IT strategy, which is constantly evolving. To this end, company CIOs needs to keep up. Skill development can be an important responsibility that will always be changing as long as technology keeps changing. With new skills also comes new (potential) duties and responsibilities, as novel technologies emerge and the IT infrastructure/strategy continues to evolve.

5. The Role of CIO is Constantly Evolving

As has been noted, the CIO of the past operated more as a director of technology, taking on technology projects and ensuring that all parts of the IT infrastructure worked correctly. Moving forward from that – though CIOs still work to ensure that all IT systems work efficiently – the modern CIO is a combination of business and IT, in working towards the strategic use of IT systems to better the enterprise’s development and increase the overall bottom line. This “new” role of the CIO will continue to change as technology develops and integrates more and more with the business side of things.

The Role of a CIO is Dynamic and Vital to a Company’s Current and Future Success
The role of the Chief Information Officer is a very broad, dynamic role that has evolved – and continues to evolve – in combining business with IT. Companies become more and more integrated with information technologies and the CIO has the core responsibility to maintain those systems, while looking towards the future. The CIO’s role can look very different depending on the needs of the company or industry, and while there are some core duties that all CIOs routinely carry out, the specifics of the CIO’s duties will largely be based on the specific company and industry. Limiting a CIO’s duties and responsibilities via a simplified “list” can cause a company to miss out on very significant, novel and innovative ideas that a CIO can bring to the table.