The CIO used to be considered the chief nerd who lacked an eye for business. As businesses rely increasingly on digital sales and interactions, that has rapidly changed. Now the CIO is an integral part of the C-suite. We ask 7 CIOs how things have changed.

by Lisa Morgan
Date Published June 15, 2021 - Last Updated July 26, 2021

leadershipThis article originally appeared in InformationWeek

Today's CIOs should be a strategic asset to their companies. If they're not, then your company has a problem, you've got the wrong person in the position, or both. Businesses are becoming increasingly digitized, and that means that business and IT strategies must be unified.

We asked 7 CIOs about how their roles have evolved and how those roles will evolve in the future. Here is what they said:

Antonio Vasquez, Bizagi

Traditionally, the CIO was considered the chief nerd who really didn't understand anything about business. As a result, many CIOs had to fight hard for a seat at the executive table which was otherwise populated by business leaders. Now, a growing number of CIOs are assuming leadership status in the C-suite because they understand how a combined business and technology strategy, process improvements and cultural adaptation enable innovation, growth and organizational resilience.

"My background in business, rather than engineering, offers a unique perspective and approach, and I think that's reflective of the evolving C-suite as a whole," said Antonio Vasquez, CIO at intelligent process automation platform provider Bizagi. "Executives with different backgrounds, educations and experiences are wearing hats or growing into hats beyond their typical job descriptions. My background allows me to stretch beyond my CIO lens and view companies' initiatives and restructuring from a strategic, pragmatic, scalable business standpoint."

Bill VanCuren, NCR Global

IT departments are rarely the only group in an organization that offers services, but not everyone has a centralized system for requests. Fill in the gaps by bringing everyone together on one platform that can reduce costs, improve collaboration, and drive efficiencies.

Bill VanCuren, SVP and CIO at enterprise technology company NCR Global, makes a point of treating other members of the C-suite as peers, partners and customers. In fact, when a new CXO is hired, he makes a point of booking an introductory meeting with that person in the first 30 days and charting a course for a mutual partnership.

"The days of leading within silos have ended," said VanCuren. "For any organization to succeed, the CIO must work in lockstep to help drive most functions, including those led by both the CMO and CFO. Organizations [that] realize the need for non-compartmentalization of information technology will be the ones who not only succeed, but lead."

Mary Gendron, Qualcomm

Mary Gendron, CIO at wireless technology company Qualcomm, said she considers it her responsibility to stay one step ahead of the CTO, CEO, and CFO in anticipating Qualcomm's needs and ensuring the company has the necessary capabilities in place to enable its engineers to do their best work.

"Great companies use CIOs because they are strategic enablers, they are leaders in the Information Age," said Gendron. "My team is engaged at every level of the company, whether it's resolving supply chain issues, addressing compliance issues or ensuring our intellectual property is secure. The CIO is everywhere in a digital company and it's how the company stays connected."

Scott Howitt, McAfee

The C-suite is growing well beyond its traditional line of business focus to include titles such as Chief Digital Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Data Officer and Chief Analytics Officer. To whom those titles and the CIO report varies from organization to organization. For example, the CIO may report to the CEO, the COO or the CFO. Similarly, a Chief Digital Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Data Officer and Chief Analytics Officer may report to the CIO, or not.

"I think one of the reasons that you're seeing roles like the Chief Digital Officer and Chief Innovation Officer is because the CIO is viewed like kind of the plodding along old guy, and I need someone who can think fast and move fast and all that," said Scott Howitt, CIO at antivirus, cloud, VPN, end point and enterprise security company McAfee.

Chris Nardecchia, Rockwell Automation

Sometimes, the CIO may move into a Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Digital Officer role to advance the company's digital strategy.

"Progressive CIOs and those with an agile and growth mindset are leaving the traditional CIO roles for these new opportunities where they can shape the future of their companies, design new products and define new business models," said Chris Nardecchia, CIO at manufacturing and industrial automation company Rockwell Automation. "A transformational CIO can align the C-suite on digital strategy, facilitate change across the enterprise and use emerging and proven technologies to innovate and drive agility."

The CIO will be the visionary and primary driver. They will be the person who will spearhead the implementation and engagement throughout the organization," said Nardecchia. "As a transformational CIO, your peers and your people will look to you to collaborate on digital transformation, lead the change for the organization, drive agile and flexible practice and be at the forefront of emerging technologies."

Rich Temple, Deborah Heart and Lung Center

While the Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Digital Officer can fall under the CIO, breaking those roles out and developing a deeper understanding of those complex, technical areas can provide the organization with greater value as it matures according to Bizagi's Vasquez.

At Deborah Heart and Lung Center, which is a relatively small organization, Rich Temple has dual responsibilities as CIO and the HIPAA Security Officer. "The role of the chief information officer is to make sure the right information flows into the right place at the right time in the right form and the HIPAA security officer has to make sure that information is flowing in a secure manner and that people aren't seeing stuff they shouldn't see," said Temple. "In a larger organization, I think you might have to segment that."

Chris Campbell, DeVry University

Traditionally, IT was viewed as a cost center -- a necessary but unsexy expense. However, since competitiveness turns on an organization's ability to drive value quickly through technology, some CIOs have been billing their work to the business units they serve like a consulting firm, especially since IT budgets exist outside of IT now. In some rare cases, CIOs are generating revenue for the company by building new products. The pandemic tested CIOs' mettle. Within a matter of days, their teams needed to enable a remote workforce just to keep the company operating.

"The role of the CIO has been on a pathway to change for some time, but the pandemic has served as a significant catalyst for accelerating that change," said Chris Campbell, CIO at DeVry University. "No longer are CIOs perceived solely as a technology expert. They are also an educator, influencer and strategic partner who is a necessary part of institutional decision-making."

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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