Are Chief Information Officers becoming more important in an increasingly digital world?

The pandemic led to lots of businesses digitalising their processes, and this trend of digital transformation has continued since. But as businesses become increasingly digitalised, processes and priorities can change, as can the perceived importance of certain roles. In this article, Business Leader looks at the importance of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in our increasingly digital world.

What is a Chief Information Officer (CIO)?

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the executive responsible for the management, implementation and usability of information and computer technologies at a company. Their role also includes analysing how technologies can benefit the business or improve an existing business process and then successfully implementing any technologies believed to be beneficial.

Wayne Fraser, Chief Information & Data Officer at The Access Group, offers an insight into the duties pertaining to the role.

Wayne Fraser, Chief Information & Data Officer at The Access Group

Wayne Fraser

He comments: “My role is to be the advocate and driving force for technology adoption and innovation, ensuring that it enables our business to grow and flourish. As a CIO, I also support significant numbers of technical people that execute on our strategic plans and support the day-to-day running of our business.

“We are all aware of the diverse range of skills requirements and the fast-paced change in the technology landscape, so we must ensure our people have everything they need to be successful, remove the barriers to innovation and personal growth, creating the platform for us to be successful.

“I spend a lot of my time talking to our business leaders on how we enable them to win the customer’s hearts and minds and grow our market penetration. As a technology function, we are constantly looking at how we deliver better, every day.”

Chris Gensmantel, Chief Information Officer at LSH Auto, highlights the importance of forward-thinking for someone in the role.

He says: “It’s important to step back from your immediate IT solutions and to visualise where your business should be investing for the future. As CIO, you must enable your business to adapt to any digital changes in your industry. In my case, that’s the motor industry which is undergoing a period of rapid digital transformation. An agile supply chain and internal team is imperative to success.”

Is the role more important today than it was in the past?

With Chief Information Officers overseeing the day-to-day function of technology in a business and devising a strategy for getting the best from it in the future, their role is undoubtedly important to a company.

According to Statista, the amount of money being spent on digital transformation – the adoption of digital technologies to transform business process and services from non-digital to digital – is estimated to reach $1.8 trillion by the end of 2022, up $300 billion from 2021 ($1.5 trillion). So, in a world where businesses are spending more and more on digital technologies, has the role of a CIO become paramount to an organisation?

“The question to ask first is, do other business leaders increasingly see the role of the CIO becoming more important? If you are a forward-thinking organisation, then the answer to that question is yes,” comments Fraser.

“Here at Access, we all collectively recognise the importance of the role I play and that my teams play for our business. Without that extended recognition, CIOs will not achieve their functional potential to growing the business.”

Gensmantel also says digital technologies have become more important as his career has progressed.

Chris Gensmantel, Chief Information Officer at LSH Auto

Chris Gensmantel

He comments: “Whilst I’m fairly new to the role with LSH Auto, I have definitely seen the importance of IT and digitalisation grow in my 20 plus year career in the motor industry. IT has developed from being a business necessity, to keeping an organisation both relevant and competitive in the market and prepared for increasing digital retail sales.”

Whilst the importance of digital has grown in recent years, Fraser says the role of a CIO today differs from that in the past.

He continues: “CIOs have historically been considered a ‘guardian of technology’, but in these increasingly complex and hugely technical landscapes, it’s my job to cut through the complexity and focus on how we grow the business in making the right technology decisions and platform choices.

“With areas like cyber, data intelligence and hyper-automation, you must be on your game, challenging everything you do and everything you have done to strive for better, for both our customers and colleagues who are always at the heart of what we do at Access.

“Access is at the forefront of digital adoption across our markets. We have so many success stories about how our effective software solutions are creating efficiencies, allowing them to do more of what’s important within their organisation”

The changing role of the CIO

In the 1980s, the CIOs role as a ‘guardian of technology’ would have meant their work would have focused more on the technical side of things. This was because of a need to maintain internal computers, databases and communications networks, which were popular technologies during this period.

However, Fraser is keen to point out how important the role has become.

He comments: “I mentioned the word ‘guardians’ earlier and many leaders in the past may have seen CIO roles as running a platform and being driven by business areas and product teams in their requirements. The role of a CIO is now even more of a critical leadership position and key differentiator to winning in any business or sector – driving innovation and change, being strategic in mindset and challenging the status quos.

“CIOs are now in a phase where cyber, data, using automation and orchestration are becoming the life blood of a hyper-growth, successful company, and important in attracting, nurturing and retaining talent, knowing the key skills to deliver on all our great ideas and plans.”

According to Gensmantel, the role of a CIO has also crossed over with other important executive positions in recent years.

He comments: “The position of Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Experience Officer (CXO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) have been converging in recent years. The overlap in skills and business goals means that all organisations now require a leader who has excellent technical knowledge, a sound business mind and who can direct change.”

Gartner’s CIO Agenda from 2021 found that 66% of the IT executives surveyed strengthened their relationship with the CEO because of the pandemic. So, for the companies digitalising their processes and services post-pandemic, the bond between CIO and CEO could continue to strengthen as both look to help their business grow.

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