The ever-changing role of the CIO

The ever-changing role of the CIO

From guardian to enabler, to partner and, ultimately, business leader – the 2011 New Zealand CIO Summit will put the evolution of the CIO role under the microscope.

The 2011 Summit, organised by CIO Magazine, IDC and conference company BrightStar, aims to explore the challenges CIOs face in keeping up with the changing landscape. These days, IT is embedded into businesses and many use technology as a way to gain competitive advantage, says Joe Peppard, professor of information systems at Cranfield School of Management (UK), who will discuss the leadership challenges of the CIO in his keynote. At many organisations, this has highlighted the increasing importance of IT. However, that recognition has possibly been a bit slow to find its way into the C-suite.

“My research has shown that the C-suite in many companies has low ‘digital literacy’,” Peppard suggests.

“IT is fundamentally different,” he continues. “In most other areas, it is very clear what you are and are not responsible for.”

But CIOs are not just responsible for the IT systems and how they run – they are often held accountable for delivering success outside of their areas, he says.

A successfully rolled out system may demand a lot of organisational change that needs to be managed by the other functional areas.

“In many companies the CIO is held accountable for benefits and value, yet, what is necessary to deliver those benefits and value are actually outside of their sphere of responsibility. Many senior officers don’t recognise that delivering value from IT is a shared responsibility.”

The role of the CIO will keep evolving and the position as we understand it today might disappear, says Peppard.

“Look at technology companies, such as the Googles and Apples of this world. At the senior management level, everybody is IT savvy. So the CIO doesn’t need to bring new innovation to the attention of management.”

Among the international speakers are Peter Wilton, senior lecturer at Haas School of Business, University of California, and Andy Lark of Dell.

These two speakers will bring a different perspective to the Summit, but it is also great to showcase the local “top-talent”, says Andrew Crabb, former CIO of TelstraClear and now head of business and government at the telco.

Today’s CIOs have learnt to understand the business and to solve business problems, rather than just deliver a technical solution, says Crabb.

Crabb reckons there will be more CIOs in the boardroom. “Historically, boards have predominantly been made up of people with financial or legal background. I think we will see more technologists at board level.”

Pat O’Connell, CIO of Rank Group, says that the CIO’s role has always been hard to define, and that is still the case. A CIO should be able to cover the spectrum of technology through to business process advisor, with expertise on tap in all areas, he says.

The best characteristics of a CIO include an ability to cover the spectrum of technology through to business process advisor, with expertise on tap in all areas. A good “politician's knowledge” of subject areas is appropriate – you can’t possibly be an expert across the board, he says.

The main challenges for CIOs in keeping up with that change include maintaining a knowledge edge in rapidly changing times, finding strong subject matter experts, dealing with a very mobile and transitory younger workforce, and motivating people in a changing workplace, says O’Connell.

“Being a CIO these days means working with imperfect data, making fast decisions, failing fast, and being able to turn on a dime. It no longer follows a predictable cycle, as the pace of change is too great. There is never a good time, so now will do.”

These and other insights on the evolving CIO role will be discussed during the panel discussion at the end of the Summit, entitled: The Present, the Future and the Age of Disruptive Change, and moderated by Garry Collings, general manager of Toll United.

The 2011 CIO Summit will be held 27 to 28 June at the SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland. The full agenda is on

There will be two CIO Masterclasses to be led by keynote speakers Joe Peppard and Peter Wilton on June 29.

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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