The Evolving Role of Chief Information Officer (CIO) in The Era of Digital Transformation

Samantha Clayton
Published 06/14/2022
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Chief Information Officer sitting at a desk looking at a computerNavigating the digital transformation era requires a strong captain, and forward-thinking businesses opt for a CIO (Chief Information Officer) to steer the ship. Companies jumping on board (okay, that’s the last ship reference) to recruit a CIO for this task are not alone.

In 2020, the total number of CIOs in the United States tech sector was just over 446,000. This figure is expected to rise to an impressive 507,000 by 2030.

So, CIOs are sticking around. But what do CIOs do in a business? With many C-suite executives in modern organizations, it can often be tricky to define their roles from the outside.



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What is a CIO?

Acting as the most senior tech executive in a company, a CIO sets and leads the technology strategy for a business. The role of a CIO is to identify and understand technology trends and how they fit in within their organization. In addition, a CIO focuses on preparing and maintaining a solid foundation to enable a business to undergo successful digital transformation.

The priority for US CIOs in 2021 was scalability and flexibility, closely followed by security elements. Reporting to a CIO includes teams handling IT security, business analysis, maintenance, procurement, development, support, and more. Accomplished CIOs uncover data and its context to deliver meaningful business insights. An example of this is the analysis of customer sentiment data to drive a lucrative and rewarding customer engagement strategy.


How Has the CIO Role Evolved So Far?

The role of a CIO in a business came to fruition in the 1980s. The CIO role then focused predominantly on the IT suite with minimal team interaction. Fast-forward a few decades, and we see a typical CIO leading the execution of digital transformation initiatives such as machine learning integrations, focusing on collaboration.

CIOs must display good organizational skills and emotional intelligence, act as strategic business partners, and perform general C-suite executive abilities. For example, the CIO of a business explores how the company can harness technological power, speed, and customer service to rise above competitors. To do this, a CIO might build a customized digital platform and alter the business’s operating model accordingly.


Digital Transformation Trends

“The CIO is a serious partner in the inner circle to creating value-added strategies and enabling deeper insights into the opportunities IT can do.” Pearl Zhu

CIOs are tasked with Pivotal digital transformation trends, including cybersecurity, compliance, cloud-based operations, and meaningful data.



In 2020, 74% of global CIOs reported a likelihood of expanding IT activities into newer technology domains, such as security operations or analytics platforms. In addition, the rise of remote

Reasons why CIOs were chosen for their role

 work has brought significant security risks, which CIOs typically handle.

To address business security, CIOs can give developers the education and motivation to build security into their code and ensure compliance. Other strategies for a CIO include ensuring that security and compliance staff work with developers to address security issues proactively.


Cloud Operations

Migrating workloads to the cloud is a priority for 59% of global businesses to streamline business operations.

Effective CIOs embrace key technology trends, accelerate the shift to cloud operations, and help businesses scale up efficiently using the latest technology. However, scaling up must be attained simultaneously with maintaining or elevating customer satisfaction rates. A successful CIO understands the importance of placing the customer at the heart of every strategic decision.

For e-commerce businesses, a CIO investigates ways to use IT to:

  • Facilitate flexible shipping options
  • Streamline app integrations
  • Improve the customer website journey
  • Create more efficient payment processes
  • Establish mechanisms for better stock management and visibility

Those are just a few examples. CIOs work within a company to create and execute – often through an omnichannel approach – methods of making customers happier and encouraging loyal brand advocates.



“Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.” Tim Berners-Lee

Mismanaged business data can be a mess of inconsequential information. But with the right CIO leading from the front, your business can achieve data governance measures and make sense of the specifics. Efficient CIOs implement tech initiatives like AI and machine learning analytics to manage centralized data and extract the most valuable information.

For example, organizations considering starting an affiliate program must examine important data surrounding business bandwidth, potential successful partnerships, and more.

Of course, CIOs don’t manage all this alone. Effective teams of compliance, full-stack developers, and data developers work together to create key data sets for every department in the business. However, capturing business data is only the beginning, which is often a task for AI automation. The manipulation of the data is a role best reserved for experienced CIOs.


Essential CIO Skills

top objective of CIOs

“A digital-ready CIO is a visionary and transformational leader, not just a transactional manager, for the long-term.” Pearl Zhu

We now know that successful CIOs manage to:

  • Create company-wide digital discipline processes
  • Streamline operations by harnessing the power of technology
  • Create strategies and plans for digital transformation
  • Concentrate business IT efforts on customer satisfaction

But what other must-have skills are essential for a great CIO?

As well as inherent knowledge of a SIP trunk, a CIO must be an excellent leader with the capacity to train teams to handle IT administration tasks without supervision. Developing digital transformation strategies means empowering employees with the skills to drive long-term digital success.

In addition to leadership qualities, a CIO must encompass valuable emotional intelligence for the perfect balance of direction and communication. The nature of the CIO role requires cross-department communications daily, so core skills including empathy, active listening, trust management, and workplace conflict are key.

CIOs must see the big picture to assess and understand the impact of the business’s technology needs. Therefore, strategic planning is a key part of a CIO’s day-to-day activities, which is why the role of a CIO is a blend of technical knowledge, experience, and an integral understanding of what is required to aid business growth decisions.

As well as a firm grasp of technology, an essential part of a CIOs’ job role is to stay abreast of marketplace and industry issues. Subjects such as cybersecurity risks, data science, IoT, and AI-led technologies should all form the basis of a CIOs knowledge.

CIOs must have a clear technological vision and a genuine desire to help the technology users and/or customers. Digital CIOs consider thought processes that assist the association between the parts of the business and in its entirety. Strategic CIOs structure their thought processes to identify problems and patterns to arrive at a technology-based solution.

CIOs are IT leaders that are multidimensional thinkers with a deep understanding of both technology and business needs.


Managing Change

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Niccolo Machiavelli

A significant aspect of a CIOs role is to manage change within a business. Because CIOs are perceived as technology leaders, when they uncover data that indicates necessary business transformation, CIOs kick off the change and follow it through until completion.

A typical digital transformation project from start to finish is led by a CIO, with tasks including:

  • Identifying industry growth opportunities
  • Developing new business services and products
  • Aligning technology with business objectives
  • Strategic project outcome planning
  • Efficient project timeline projections
  • Implementing repeatable organization-wide processes
  • Delivering role clarity to avoid silos
  • Providing project-associated technical assistance to entire departments
  • Giving appropriate and relevant leadership when necessary
  • Training and education for the rest of the company regarding the change

Effective CIOs must demonstrate value for successful outcomes during any business digital transformation project. Value can take the form of increased productivity or perhaps a cost-led initiative. CIOs use their technical knowledge and data-backed insights to deliver potential technology-driven solutions to CEOs that meet the business’s objectives.

Digital transformation requires buy-in and active involvement from the CEO, and in addition, the support of the SEO is often the driver of cultural change in digital transformation environments.


What Is the Future of the CIO Role?

“The CIOs role is transforming from delivery executive to business executive.” Gartner

Future CIOs are likely to still focus on education of digital culture to facilitate effective digital transformation. Customer engagement and satisfaction will remain the most prominent business priority, with CIOs using strategies to establish the right data to drive the best and most accurate business decisions.

These technology leaders continually anticipate automation and new technologies to adapt hybrid IT processes.

Whatever the future CIO role looks like, this particular career is essential in navigating businesses within the ever-evolving digital transformation era.


About the Writer

Patty Yan is the EMEA Product Marketing Manager for RingCentral Office, the leader in cloud communications solutions. Patty is passionate about creating value and differentiation, ensuring a better experience for customers and partners. She gained a wealth of international product marketing, product management, GTM, and market development experience across a range of high-tech SaaS in a fast-paced, hyper-growth environment that assumes both strategic and tactical execution. She is not new to UC, starting in Tandberg, then Cisco, driving video collaboration and services launch, and Enghouse with global responsibilities for hosted CCaaS. Patty Yan also published articles for domains such as MGID and Storyblok.



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