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What is a CIO?

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The CIO has become one of the key business decision makers in a successful enterprise. Who are they and what do they do?

What is a CIO?

    1. Who is the CIO?
    2. What is the CIO’s remit
    3. CIO roles and responsibilities
    4. CIO community

Who is the CIO?

The Chief Information Officer, CIO, is typically the most senior executive in an enterprise who is responsible for the entire information technology estate. They normally report directly to the CEO, but where necessary and where sector or situation demands, may also report to the Chief Operating Officer, COO, or Chief Financial Officer, CFO. Increasingly, given the rise in importance of digital technologies across the business economy, especially over the last two decades, CIOs are invited to sit on Boards of Directors. In short, they have significant responsibility over a significant part of the business.

HotTopics Cheat Sheet: CIO

  • The CIO is a C-suite executive responsible for spearheading the technology and information systems of a business.
  • The role of the CIO has grown in importance and influence as digital technology enables business transformation, innovation in products and services, and productivity.
  • The CIO must have experience with IT and technology, along with business acumen and good people management skills to be a true leader and partner to the business.

The CIO remit

Responsibility for the business’ entire information technology estate is a complex one. CIOs provide a critical interface between the needs of the business, its users, its customers and clients, and of course the technology. Combining them into a single coherent IT strategy for the business to use in its efforts to remain competitive, satisfy customer needs and safeguard its employees, is the modern-day CIOs day-to-day objective.

This hasn’t always been the case, however.

During the last quarter of the 20th Century, as the nascent power of early technologies began to just impact the world of business, early CIOs or equivalent were seen as back-office executives, whose main function was to simply ensure the functionality of systems. They had little to no weight in regards to the strategy of the business. That has changed significantly in line with digital technology and its increasing ubiquity.

From the outset of the 21st Century, investment in technology began to be the competitive differentiator for businesses. Technology upended traditional markets, structures and even sectors, as customers changed the way they communicate and shop, and businesses ramped up production, shifted work all over the world and began the long process of digitising their IP. If the last century had knowledge limited to just the business, this one sees knowledge as fully integrated into the people of the business, which technology can help draw out, either via creating efficiencies, enabling more creative processes or allowing for collaboration across a global network.

Those are vital components for the competitiveness of an enterprise or business. Whether for a start-up or a Fortune100 business, a CIO in general needs to combine the technical understanding of modern day digital products and services, with business acumen and empathetic leadership. It is a combination of both hard and soft skills.

Day-to day, CIOs manage and plan technology policy and development, planning, budgeting, resourcing and training. They review cost control and drive profits, or value, from investments in innovation and technology, and, along with their Chief Information Security Officer, CISO, increasingly work to limit potential organisational damage from security threats by setting up appropriate IT controls and planning for IT recovery.

Further CIO roles and responsibilities

Several business functions can also fall under the remit of the CIO.

A CIO makes executive decisions regarding IT investment, from equipment from suppliers to the creation of new IT systems, such as Cloud. As a respected business leader, the CIO is responsible for leading and directing the workforce of their specific organisation in and around the investments they source so teams can be productive, wherever they are in the company, or even in the world, given the recent rise in remote working.

For many businesses today, a CIO is also there to maintain certain processes, upgrade legacy systems and manage functionality; the grand transformation plans of the 2010s are becoming less frequent, and the geopolitical landscape has also evolved enough to now include businesses as active members of the global community, which also increases their threat levels.

A Gartner survey of over 2000 CIOs confirmed this in 2022 when it was revealed that their future technology plans remain focused on optimization rather than growth. CIOs’ top areas of increased investment for 2023 include cyber and information security (66%), business intelligence or data analytics (55%) and cloud platforms (50%). Interestingly, 32% are increasing investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and 24% in hyper automation.

HotTopics CIO community

The importance of the CIO and their influence on businesses today cannot be overstated. Their increasingly influential role must balance and excel at technology and innovation, business strategy and leadership, in order to fulfil the growing list of responsibilities of the technology leader.

The world is also continually evolving—and fast. Critical information and constant learning helps the CIO keep track of trends and insights in a world of real-time information. One of the surest ways to remain abreast of new developments, and share learnings, is to build up a strong network of peers as a support network.

HotTopics’ technology leader community boasts thousands of technology leaders and practitioners from around the world where they meet virtually and in-person at our many formats of events in a given year, such as The Studio, to share their best practice thought leadership, learn from one another, and widen their networks.

Learn more about our CIO events for the technology leaders community here.