The Changing Role of the CIO

In the past, IT employees and the CIO worked as a relatively independent department with certain delegated responsibilities. Now, the face of business is changing. Just as Mary from Marketing may ask every employee to “Like” a corporate Facebook status or contribute to new branding strategies, IT flows within every aspect of a company’s day-to-day operations. The CIO must be able to take technological intelligence to the boardroom, and as a result, he or she is now seen in many capacities.

As decision-maker

Should we upgrade to the new system? Change our email or ISP provider? How much should we pay for data storage and delivery — and how much do we need? There are dozens of options for even the smallest tech decisions, from dedicated servers to APIs. These are choices too important to be left to an entry-level IT employee, but too technical for your average C-Suiter. Enter the CIO. An individual in that position is now expected to be able to understand caches and codes, while simultaneously translating and relaying that information to peers in the boardroom for more informed, tech savvy decision making.

As security officer

New online threats to businesses mean a new holistic and strategic approach to security. Instead of blocking adware, choosing an anti-virus and moving on, companies are forced to think critically about their website and networks from the perspective of a potential intruder. Someone within the company needs to be on the lookout for back doors and other vulnerabilities that can leave customer information or financial records open for exposure. This includes everything from server maintenance to risk assessment. Security leaks like the Apple embarrassment in late 2012 make the customer feel insecure and damage a brand’s reputation. The new CIO must be prepared for those kinds of attacks, both to prevent them and to handle the backlash afterwards.

As activist

A good CIO possesses the perfect combination of knowledge about the business, passion about the mission, and creativity for innovation. As a result, CIOs are poised to serve as a spokesperson for the company — to clients, potential hires, the marketing team, and even the other executives. The unique dataset possessed by someone in that position means a responsibility to be a rallying force for tough decisions and a magnet for smart people who can keep the ball rolling. Often this includes working closely with interns and university partnerships, though it can be as simple as just putting the right people on a team and leaving them to brainstorm.

Technology is changing rapidly. A degree in information technology or systems engineering may be outdated almost before graduation. Business-owners have a responsibility to keep someone capable in the CIO position, someone who will be able to explore new possibilities, stay on top of trends and new technology, and work closely with people across a wide range of departments. Fortunately, the payout is worth it: a complex, growing and venerable business with a collaborative work environment that will attract new talent for years to come.