Perspectives

Mid-market CIOs consolidate role as strategy specialists

CIO's influence in mid-sized firms

In the swift waters of corporate technology, more organizations are counting on the chief information officer (CIO) to steady the ship as companies expand or divest. Few leadership roles have evolved more quickly or influenced business functions more than the CIO of today.

September 19, 2016

A blog post By Chris Jackson, chief of staff–Growth Enterprise Services, Deloitte Consulting LLP

In the swift waters of corporate technology, more organizations are counting on the chief information officer (CIO) to steady the ship as companies expand or divest. Few leadership roles have evolved more quickly or influenced business functions more than the CIO of today.

The traditional responsibilities of the job have intensified, raising the stakes for decisions such as software purchases and cyber security investments. And in the middle market, where technological proficiency and agility are among companies’ most powerful weapons against bigger competitors, our observations indicate a changing, more valuable role for CIOs as they impact the business more directly.

Technology change has enabled CIOs to impact customers and business partners in ways that are critical to business success, giving them newfound respect within the C-suite. As our past surveys have shown, leadership understands the value of technology and the CIOs are viewed as essential leaders when business strategy is debated and shareholder value is created.

In our 2016 survey of technology trends among mid-sized firms, half of respondents signaled their IT leaders–chief technology officers, chief information officers and other top IT leaders–as the key conductors of new and emerging technologies. The finding was significantly higher than the prior year, so much so that CIO-level professionals are leading technology investments nearly twice as frequently as principal business leaders such as the CEO.

Findings in our separate global CIO survey reveal that CIOs assess their influence with internal stakeholders, the acknowledgement of strategic business priorities, and the ability to lead fast-changing environments among the most important capabilities for success in their roles.1

To appreciate why these skills have helped CIOs capture greater influence at mid-sized firms, it is helpful to understand the nature of the companies themselves. By virtue of their size, middle-market firms routinely have fewer layers between IT staff and overall leadership at the organization. As a result, it can be easier for a CIO to leave their imprint on company business operations or customers. A great example of this is illustrated by Scottrade, which reduced layers between customers and the business as they designed their mobile trading applications. The objective of this ability to be nimble, and engage the customer in the process via technology, is to allow the company to hopefully accelerate value and build customer loyalty via technology.

It’s also helpful to understand how deeper awareness of emerging technologies has helped CIOs add value across their companies. For instance, it has become routine practice for the CIO to shape the work of logistics staff through the use of cloud-based planning software. By tapping the potential of big data, a CIO can help a company bolster its research and development efforts. And through the application of the Internet of Things, entire fleets of vehicles can “talk” to each other and collect information that helps keep engines running at the speed of business.

Abbreviated cycles, enduring impact

Almost without exception, today’s CIOs have had to try to stay ahead; with often shorter, more intense cycles, there is pressure to incorporate the latest updates, mobile features, and business strategies across a more congested environment of platforms and devices. To make matters worse, employee-introduced data risks seem to pop up much more quickly than the employee training and control redesign protocols to head off such threats.

This rapid pace puts pressure on CIOs to address not only the challenge of the today, but also the goals of tomorrow and beyond. It is unsurprising, then, that many technology leaders struggle to find the most desirable balance between fearlessness and paralysis as they navigate the waters of technological change.

Nevertheless, companies are finding ways to address the risks that come with innovation. Our mid-market survey revealed that CIOs are showing greater recognition of the challenges of managing the adoption of new innovation. IT has been able to focus on innovating with these new technologies as opposed to their traditional role of operations and maintenance, an indication that the C-suite views the value of leveraging IT for innovative know-how to be just as critical as operational upkeep.

1http://www2.deloitte.com/tr/en/pages/technology/articles/cio-survey.html

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