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The era of the CIO elbows-deep in the server stack and data center is long gone. Today’s CIOs are more business enablers than operational technology managers, thanks to the rise of cloud computing and process automation. They don’t need to manage hardware as much as they need to broker the right cloud services and align their technology purchases with what the business needs to achieve its goals.

According to the recent issue of CIO magazine, the CIO will be taking on five different roles in the coming year, and “CIO” will stand for something entirely different. These roles are chief innovation officer, chief inclusion officer, chief (artificial) intelligence officer, chief inspiration officer, and chief instructional officer. Each role is a step out of the data center and into business strategy: leading the move to digital transformation, helping to diversify the workforce, assisting with the adoption of DataOps and AIOps, articulating a vision for the entire company, and building stronger relationships within their departments.

CIO magazine isn’t wrong, and there’s a reason why they listed chief innovation officer first. Digital transformation is at the forefront of many organizations’ strategies, and it comes in a lot of different formats. The CIO will need to lead the charge or risk being left behind to answer trouble tickets. They’ll continue to be slipping into a more creative role as organizations transform.

CIOs will be facing a lot of unique situations in the coming year, and they and their teams will need to develop four key skillsets to adapt to the challenges. We see these four skills as a critical way to approach the innovation that will come with digital transformations. 

CIOs as the Catalyst for Innovation

The first critical skill or approach is to become the catalyst for change. As CIO magazine mentioned, CIOs will be leading the charge for digital transformation. They’ll need to make the business case for the new technology initiatives and show how they align with business goals. This could be showing how employees will be more productive or how customers will be more engaged. The important thing is that CIOs will be the ones rallying stakeholders to adopt these new initiatives.

Becoming Business Strategists

Building on developing into catalysts, CIOs will be contributing significantly to business strategy in the coming year. They’ll lead the teams that find inefficiencies and turn cost centers into revenue generators. For example, they may implement predictive analytics to determine which customers are likely to churn, catching them before they leave.

Evolving as Technologists

Knowing technology will always be part of the CIO’s role. But CIOs will evolve as technologists to help navigate through the marketing-speak and find the best products for the company. They’ll understand what new technologies will move the business forward – and what isn’t necessary. This will require continually learning about new technology and looking at existing technology to discover new opportunities and solve business problems.

Lead Operations

Yes, CIOs will be the catalyst for change in the organization. They’ll generate enthusiasm for new initiatives, contribute significantly to business strategy, and continually expand their knowledge to recommend new ways of tackling business problems. But they’ll still be managing operations. It’s the most essential part of their jobs, and the organization is relying on them to get it done.

Overall, the CIO will be wearing a lot of different hats and using different skills than in the past. As technology and business needs have changed, so has the role of the CIO, encompassing responsibilities outside the current scope. However, if they can develop the skillsets and approaches to tackle these new challenges, both in themselves and on their teams, they can meet the needs of the organization and continue to be a vital part of the company’s growth.

Originally published Nov 15, 2019, updated Jan 30, 2023

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