The five characteristics of a new breed of CIO: Gartner

The five characteristics of a new breed of CIO: Gartner

As enterprises rapidly evolve their mindsets and approach to digital, CIOs will be required to either evolve their own profiles and skill sets or risk becoming irrelevant, writes Linda Price of Gartner.

CIOs are facing an unprecedented level of conflicting stakeholder expectations. For the past 10 years, they have been required to focus on cost, control and quality in response to global economic conditions. Although these remain important, the emphasis is shifting to demand for technology that is digital, dynamic and diverse, as business leaders look to drive growth over the next 10 years. The personal success of CIOs in the coming decade will be heavily influenced by their abilities to manage the transition to a new role in response to new business expectations, while ensuring continuity in the management of traditional enterprise IT.

The next 10 years are set to become the first truly digital decade, when digital technology will move to the forefront of finding new sources of value in how individuals interact with each other, how consumers interact with providers, and how enterprises interact with partner and supplier technologies. As enterprises rapidly evolve their mindsets and approach to digital, CIOs will be required to either evolve their own profiles and skill sets or risk becoming irrelevant.

The first digital decade is emerging at a different pace across different industries, with some enterprises fully enveloped in the challenge today, while others are only beginning to feel the effect. However, all CIOs, regardless of their industry or enterprise maturity, should avoid the mistake of only watching and waiting.

A complacent mindset can be likened to that of a child on the beach watching the waves hit the shore. Suddenly, a wave comes in faster than expected, and the child has to scramble to get out of the way, perhaps reacting too late. Then another wave comes in faster and farther. The child sees the waves coming, but each one takes him by surprise as he misjudges the speed.

Focus on ‘how we make money’ instead of ‘how we do things’.

Linda Price, Gartner

The new set of expectations, coming from a new breed of digitally minded, technology-enabled enterprises, will require a new breed of CIO. Gartner has identified five crucial characteristics needed by CIOs if they are to meet the challenge. For CIOs to be successful in the first digital decade, they must begin making the transition away from the traditional CIO role, and invest time and attention in developing their capabilities in each of these five dimensions:

1. Business understanding – from breadth to depth

The new CIO needs depth (rather than breadth) of understanding of how the business competes, makes money, and delivers products and services.

This knowledge is likely to be gained either from working in a business unit or from special assignments that have included business accountability, rather than working with stakeholders and attending training courses.

2. Primary focus – from operations to monetisation

The new CIO will focus on combining technology with information and human capabilities, and applying it to drive innovation in new customer interactions, new ways of competing and new revenue streams. Focus on ‘how we make money’ instead of ‘how we do things’.

3. Scope of accountability – from IT organisation to ecosystem

Rather than building foundational platforms for the business, the CIO will focus on orchestrating a complex ecosystem of customers, distributed IT development, and technology and business suppliers. The CIO will need to build a culture of sustainable enterprise change, with a focus on exploration and learning, and lead with an outside-in perspective, focusing on consumer value and an integrated technology-enabled business response.

4. Planning approach – from routine to dynamic

Instead of an annual IT strategy, long-term planning methodologies such as forecasting and scenario planning will be required. Constant exploration of technology disrupters and innovations will drive the next business success.

5. Measure of success: From efficient ways of working to effective outcomes

The CIO will be measured on successful management of business outcomes enabled by technology, not simply cost-efficient performance.

The waves of technology and business innovation will continue to arrive in every industry further and faster than expected, creating a new breed of enterprise that will require this new breed of CIO. To not get caught, CIOs must begin to adjust their focuses, profiles and skills. The next step is to consider your own strengths and weaknesses today across each of the five dimensions and develop a list of actions to take to address your priority areas for development. If you need help, please get in touch.

Linda Price is group vice president, Gartner, executive programs in Asia Pacific. Email comments to

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