What defines the CIO, and what makes a good one?

The rise of the Chief Information Officer, or CIO, along with other hyper-modern C-suite roles like Chief Digital Officer, or Chief Data Officer, represents a tectonic shift in the business leadership landscape, particularly in retail when monolithic forces like Walmart and Amazon monopolize industry growth and customer expectations force digital transformation on businesses that otherwise might not be ready for it.

What is the role of the modern CIO exactly? Tarun Inuganti, Partner, CIO Practice with Korn/Ferry International Consulting notes that "The ideal CIO is the one who can bridge the gap between business and technology. He provides value to the enterprise by helping it harness its fullest potential using technology. He must communicate the technology vision constantly to the entire value supply chain of the enterprise."

This is no small feat. Retailers competing with massive national chains face a minefield of challenges in keeping up with the service levels customers have come to expect: omni-channel buying experiences including loyalty and gift cards/registries, pick-up or return anywhere, product reviews and comparisons, and targeted outreach. Accomplishing these outcomes is a weighty task inside an organization with limited resources, older technologies that remain difficult to replace, and unconnected systems that prohibit omni-channel experiences.

The modern CIO, as a result, has a set of challenges that span the entire organization. They must solve the digital transformation problem across multiple departments, complex business goals, and existing and potential new technology solutions within the constraints of budget while aligning executive and departmental leadership around disruptive change.

A recent Forbes article - "How The CIO Role Must Change Due To Digital Transformation" – notes two key digital threats to the role:

  • Recognition that digital transformation now makes technology THE business, rather than technology supporting the business; therefore, IT and CIO roles are much more vital to growth in sales.
  • Competing through new digital models and digital platforms, focusing on redefining the customer experience and employee experience to create and deliver new value.

Because digital transformation is the number one priority of the CIO, it’s important that they are equipped with the tools and partnerships that enable an agile approach to quickly and economically move as quickly as possible into the most modern technology ecosystem. The key metrics driving the effectiveness of that ecosystem include:

  • Access to cross-referenceable data across all tech platforms and ownership for each point of integration.
  • The ability to upgrade, replace, or hot-swap technology that is no longer serving business outcomes or decreasing visibility across the organization
  • The removal of dependencies on third-party technology service providers for critical data-driven outcomes or integration integrity
  • A clear path toward aligning strategic, financial, and operational goals under a technology ecosystem that works toward rather than against executive objectives

Without the tools required to achieve these and other goals, digital transformation remains an expensive, uphill technology battle waged both internally and externally, that render the CIO’s KPI’s costly and combative. But when CIO has a clear path to make decisions strategically rather than reactively, digital transformation can become part of the company culture and a cross-departmental rallying cry for all future objectives.