Businesses are doubling down on their digital transformation ambitions. Over the next five years, 89% of companies will deploy a digital-first strategy.
Not only that, but according to the World Economic Forum’s “2018 Future of Jobs Report,” there’s “a new human-machine frontier within existing tasks,” where an increasing percentage of tasks will shift from humans to machines, creating new opportunities and net new jobs across industries.
This coming shift may even be more disruptive to businesses than any other recent technology wave.
At the center of it all: The CIO.
According to a Forbes Insights survey, 84% of CIOs say their roles have increased in importance in the last five years, and they count their most important skill today as contributing to corporate strategy. And that’s only going to continue.
So, what does all of this mean for today’s technology executives? In simplest terms, the CIO role will be different in the next five years. More than a lot.
As Forrester puts it in its “Predictions 2019: Transformation Goes Pragmatic:” “The CIO sits at the center of a storm, waging a three-front battle: addressing aging systems and long-standing data issues; driving a business strategy that harnesses the value of a wide range of new, powerful technologies; and maximizing the value and security of today’s environment.”
CIOs looking to be part of the change will need to adapt their skills and expertise in three key ways. Let’s break it down.
1. They need to grow beyond technology expertise
CIOs who lead with their deep technology expertise will be the first to be pigeon holed, and even worse, they’ll hold up progress.
More than any singular technology expertise, technology leaders need to invest in their soft skills to be successful in the next five years. CIOs can always hire and train people with deep technology expertise, but to be an effective part of the board, they need to be able to explain the benefits of technology strategies in plain business language. They have to be skilled in influencing and energizing the organization to move toward new business opportunity.
They also need to improve their abilities when it comes to building partnerships, both within the business and with vendors and other organizations that can inform innovation solutions.
Findings from a recent Forbes Insider CIO survey support this notion, and indicate the three most important personal skills CIOs need to develop in order to succeed are: leadership, communicating and influencing, and partnering with others.
These are key for CIOs to move out of their comfort zones and be effective in educating the board on the potential of technology decisions.
2. They need to understand how to shift department roles and focus as automation becomes pervasive
Software-defined networking and infrastructure, rapid application development and the convergence of operations through DevOps, security automation and emerging SecDevOps, all call for a reskilling of the IT department. And CIOs need to get moving on it quickly.
These shifts, and the growing focus on customer experience, means IT teams will need to grow into more strategic roles themselves, where, for example, engineers move from manually patching servers to instead ensuring IT is prepared to deliver new solutions faster and scale quickly based on changing priorities.
It’s a big skills gap to overcome, and a new literacy that needs to be developed. Finding ways to support individual knowledge in each IT discipline—from database admins to sysadmins to network engineers and developers—and align it to the business and technology strategy will be key.
At the same time, CIOs and their teams can’t possibly master infinite technology specialties, so CIOs need to stay aligned to digital transformation goals to avoid getting distracted.
3. They need to become change agents
The most important role of the CIO in the next five years may be that of change agent, something that goes well beyond the ability to understand the potential of technology and to actually bring it to life.
A Deloitte Insights 2018 report, “Manifesting legacy,” supports this notion, saying that CIOs who are business co-creators and change instigators are more likely to “contribute to the two mandates of the CIO in the future, transforming business operations and driving revenue growth,” than those who maintain their role as trusted operators focused on operational discipline alone.
CIOs need to understand the organization’s current capabilities and gaps, have awareness in the market of the vendors to partner with, and be able to build capability within the organization and reskill teams to meet the new challenges. This includes increasing the speed or reach in the market, and improving the ability to easily and consistently deploy solutions through automation, among other things.
To be change agents, CIOs first have to be open to change. They need to diversify their knowledge, and listen and learn from peers in their industry and in other sectors. They need to tie their priorities to broader business goals and be accountable for the results.
Ultimately, businesses need the vision and execution of a brilliant technologist who can translate technology potential into full-fledged business strategy. Who can articulate technology into real-world lingo for the C-suite. And who have the executional insight and fortitude to turn digital potential into true business opportunity.
For more insights on the changing role of the CIO, see this leadership guide about your first 60 days in the role.
5 keys to successful organizational design
How do you create an organization that is nimble, flexible and takes a fresh view of team structure? These are the keys to creating and maintaining a successful business that will last the test of time.Read more
8 ways to stand out in your stand-up meetings
Whether you call them stand-ups, scrums, or morning circles, here's some secrets to standing out and helping everyone get the most out of them.Read more
Technology in 2025: Prepare your workforce
The key to surviving this new industrial revolution is leading it. That requires two key elements of agile businesses: awareness of disruptive technology and a plan to develop talent that can make the most of it.Read more