The Skills and Traits of the Next Generation CIO

The evolution of digital transformation is disrupting the roles and responsibilities of the CIO.

The demand for data especially analytics for customer data is influencing IT decisions by CMO’s – and this trend will only continue to grow as we witness the rise of tech-savvy executives with titles like Chief Digital Officer, Experience Officer, Marketing Technology Officer, Analytics officer etc. Coming with these job titles is also company budgets, where the average chief marketing officer’s budget for technology is roughly on a par with the CIO’s and will likely exceed it over the next few years, according to Gartner.

Why the shift? Some of this can also be traced to a lack of innovation coming from the CIOs office. If old-school CIOs cling to an IT-business-as-usual attitude, they risk becoming second-class citizens in the executive suite, responsible for keeping the lights on and the servers humming but not involved in key decisions that drive the business forward.

But for the next generation CIOs, opportunities are endless. Here’s how to navigate the quickly evolving business landscape and be a forward thinking C-suite member.

Over the past ten years the number of digital customer touchpoints — and the data associated with them — has exploded, making it the age of the customer. CIOs who see their primary function as managing internal IT systems are not in a position to deliver the information businesses need to improve the customer experience. CIOs need to be just as plugged into customers as CMOs are, it is critical to understand the customer’s wants and needs.

The fastest way for a CIO to get a finger on the pulse of a company’s customers is by reviewing the data, after all data is king. Not all top tech execs have been willing to dive deep into data. The reluctance of some CIOs and even some CMOs to allow customer data to drive business decisions is a key driver behind the rise of the chief digital officer, says Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research.

While a new breed of CDOs has helped old-school companies like GE and McDonald’s achieve dramatic digital turnarounds, savvy CIOs can take on this role by adding more data analysis know-how to their skillset. “The growth of the CDO role, at least in part, reflects IT’s failure to step up and take on one of technology’s most important value-add functions,” says Keith Collins, CIO for SAS, a $3.2 billion maker of analytics platforms. “The first thing I did as CIO was to participate in a week of analytics training with all our database administrators and business analysts.”

CIOs need to be able to answer questions from their business colleagues, like how to reduce churn, limit their risk exposure, or identify potential fraud. They don’t necessarily need to become data experts themselves, Collins says, but they need to know whether data can be used to address such questions.

While CMOs, CDOs, CXOs, and CIOs usually have different mandates, the boundaries between them are sometimes less than distinct, says Gartner’s Sorofman. “There is a blurring in the specific titles and roles across all of these disciplines,” he says. “There’s no uniformity anymore. I think that’s because one CMO doesn’t look like the next with respect to the scope of their responsibility. In many organizations, the CMO may be the CDO.”

When these execs tussle over the control of technology, everyone loses. But there doesn’t have to be a turf war, says Fenwick. Smart organizations build collaborative teams based on the strengths each member brings to the table.

Renee McKaskle, senior VP and CIO for Hitachi Digital Business, says tech execs need to stop focusing on whose IT budget is bigger and rely on each other’s expertise to help the business move forward. “For CIOs to remain relevant they need to recognize that they cannot be protecting any turf,” she says. “They need to surround themselves with smarter people than themselves and continue to be humble. If they are the smartest technologist in the room, they’re in the wrong room — they haven’t heard from the right people and they will quickly become obsolete.” Ultimately, McKaskle says, the core function of the CIO’s office  to act as the wise consultant on every significant tech spend shouldn’t change.

Today the next generation CIOs have the opportunity to connect with customers, dive deep into data, collaborate with their digital experience and marketing peers, and use technology to create value and even drive revenue for the business.