The CIO reboot

Heather Barnes, Kersty Bletso 29 Feb 2024

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From our discussions with boards and CIOs/CTOs, it’s fair to say that the erosion of the CIO role over the last few years has had a detrimental effect on a company’s ability to drive a cohesive and meaningful technology transformation.

The separation of data, analytics, digital and cyber into functional areas that sit outside of the CIO’s remit has led to a disaggregated approach to technology leadership for many businesses, with an apex voice missing in the boardroom that can drive a coordinated and successful agenda. We have leaders with deep vertical expertise but lacking in breadth. Everyone wants the title of CTO, not CIO, which is now perceived by many as a back-office function and lacking kudos within the organization.

So, do we need a return to the original concept of the chief information officer?

Whether acknowledged or not, all businesses are technology businesses with different products and services at the front end: technology drives the strategic advantage for an enterprise, regardless of sector.

With magpie syndrome affecting firms and various hype-cycles (Gen AI anyone?) distracting senior leadership, coupled with a scarcity of talent, firms have inflated titles and created new c-suite roles to attract and satisfy both internal and external drivers, leading to the breakdown of the CIO role. We question how successfully this has enabled organizations to transform?

This approach has actively driven poor hiring decisions, with the perennial cycle of mistaking routine upkeep for real change, expensive programs that underdeliver on value creation and dissatisfied parties across the board.

This raises two questions. Is a result of a lack of understanding in the boardroom as to how technology is instrumental to the success (and survival) of a business? Or is it a lack of the right type of leaders that can drive this level of strategic accountability? Either way, change is imperative.

So, what needs to change at an enterprise level?

  • Organizations must embrace a holistic view of technology, be more curious and acknowledge its pivotal role.
  • Future tech leaders need broader exposure to all areas of tech and the wider business.
  • Unify disparate functions, building one integrated team.
  • Resist title inflation.
  • Hire a commercially astute CIO that you trust; someone who has genuine breadth and understanding; position them for success

As for CIOs? Elevate your impact by not just understanding the breadth of technology landscapes but also by showcasing your strategic, growth-focused mindset. Demonstrate how you can drive value and foster the organization’s long-term success, emphasizing your role as a key contributor to both technological innovation and commercial achievements.

Heather Barnes

Heather is a Partner in our global Technology & Digital practice, leading on senior technology, digital and data leadership roles across the consumer, technology, life sciences, energy, and industrials space. Her depth of knowledge and experience over the past eighteen…

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Kersty Bletso

Kersty is a partner in Leathwaite’s global executive interim business, based in our London office. She is focused on appointing exceptional senior interim talent that drives transformation and value creation, across all sectors and industries, enabling clients to benefit from…

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