Not since Y2K have I seen the chief information officer (CIO) role in the public eye as it is today. In the intense spotlight of COVID-19, the CIO shined as an enabler to business continuity, business survivability and in some cases, business growth. Whether you’re a newly appointed CIO or someone who aspires to the role, the skills and traits you need have changed dramatically over the past year alone – and exponentially in the 20 years since Y2K.

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CIOs are leading tech-enabled business transformation

As consumers, we experienced a lot of changes in the second quarter of 2020: Retailers ramped up e-commerce, supply chain operations became more resilient, and contact centers gave remote access for employees to work from home.

In these examples and in many others, CIOs are instrumental in making these business changes possible. Now more than ever I encounter CIOs working across, and in many cases, leading the C-suite in defining the value of driving rapid implementation of cloud, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Now that we’ve turned the page past crisis mode, CIOs will continue to be relied on for running world-class technology organizations but also as the catalyst and drivers of business transformation. I will be writing a series of blogs delving into the evolution of today’s CIO role and the changes that can be expected in the coming years.  This blog posts showcases the key dimensions that I’ll be discussing.

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Almost one third (30%) of CIOs had non-IT jobs prior to their current positions.

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Evolving skills background

Consider this rather bold statement: Today's CIO is not necessarily a "techie."

It is becoming increasingly popular to hire CIOs with a business or functional background and oftentimes, P&L management experience as well. Our analysis found that almost one-third (30%) of CIOs had non-IT jobs prior to their current position.¹ Today’s CIO is not necessarily an internal hire, either.

In 2019, almost 80% of CIOs were hired from an outside organization.²

Diversity and inclusion

Across the Fortune 500, we see more diversity and inclusion in CIO positions. At Accenture, we are our own case study in this matter: Penelope Prett was recently named Accenture’s Chief Information Officer. Still, more progress needs to be made on gender diversity. A 2019 Gartner survey found only 14% of business respondents had a female CIO.

Similarly, studies show an increase in racially and ethnically diverse CIOs. While the numbers are trending upward (from 11% in 2014 to 14% in 2016)4, there is an opportunity to increase diversity in this C-suite position. 

Reporting relationships

The percentage of CIOs reporting directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) is falling. We attribute this trend to the emergence of the chief data officer (CDO) role. With digital technologies, the job of turning all that data into “information” once fell to the CIO––and now it may fall to the CDO. Interestingly for the CIO, the CDO increasingly reports to the CEO, effectively giving a company two top “information” executives.

Factors driving CIO hiring trends

Why has the number of non-technical CIOs grown? Two factors have been taking shape over the past 15 to 20 years:5

  • More Line of Business managers have built their careers with a solid understanding of what technology can do for their organizations; and
  • Senior IT managers have increasingly wandered away from aspiring to the CIO role and instead are taking on CTO positions or product development, product engineering, and even “shadow IT” roles within business units.

Regardless of backgrounds, all CIOs must do more than just their technology job today.

Working in the “New” – future skill requirements

Today’s CIO needs to be well-rounded. At the core, this means possessing technological proficiency to equip business changes. Non-technical CIOs should have a senior member on their team who is very capable in the IT tenets of security, availability, and data integrity. Also, the world is moving toward an “agile” work environment. CIOs need to help create new technologies in pods of business unit (BU) employees. This may include revamping how IT service levels are measured as business key performance indicators (KPIs).

Today’s CIO needs to know the business. This means having an acumen for operations and strategy, as well as cross-industry knowledge. How are other businesses in other industries doing things? This type of knowledge gives you a valuable seat at the table with the CEO and other C-suite officers. With emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication skills, today’s CIO can collaborate on strategic decision making across the organization.

See more IT Strategy insights.

¹SIM, IT Trends Study, 2019.
²SIM, IT Trends Study, 2019.
³Gartner, refreshed May 2019.
4SIM, IT Trends Study, 2019.
5Key European IT Management Trends for 2016.

Greg Douglass​

Senior Managing Director – Technology Strategy & Advisory​

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