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Is CIO the hardest job in the C-suite?

Re-examining the evolving role of Chief Information Officer.

Though still a relatively new member of the C-suite, CIOs are seeing their priorities, responsibilities and expectations change rapidly, and keeping up has proven to be a challenge.

According to Deloitte’s recent CIO Transitions report, the role has evolved from a highly technical position to one that is responsible for revamping the IT culture, delivering on multiple critical projects on time and on budget, establishing key relationships and developing a clear strategic roadmap.

Is the pace faster than expected?

“What I’m seeing in dealing with CIOs for a couple of decades now is that the pace of change is unprecedented,” said one of the report’s co-authors and Deloitte’s US CIO Program Research Leader, Khalid Kark.

CIO chief information officer

“Things are changing so rapidly that many times CIOs that are existing in their role may be blind-sided, while new CIOs coming into the role may be overwhelmed with the amount on their plate and the speed they’re expected to operate.”

Now that corporate leaders view technological innovation as a key to remaining competitive and warding off competition from both traditional competitors and startups alike, the expectations and pressures on those who hold the title have never been greater.

“It’s hard to just keep up with the advances, from a technological perspective,” said Kark. “The business expectations around speed have changed.”

To keep up, the expectations of CIOs are also rapidly evolving.

From industry-specific to industry-agnostic

It’s become cliché to say that every company today needs to be a tech company, but the reality behind that cliché is that skills, experience and even competition can come from just about anywhere, not just the traditional sources.

CIO chief information officer

That cross-pollination, however, can be an advantage to CIOs, as they are no longer limited to a single industry or specialty.

“We’re seeing CIOs actually shift across industries fairly easily,” says Kark. “Our data suggests that a CIO role is a CIO role is a CIO role. In fact, if you come in from a different industry, you may bring in that perspective and those fresh ideas that might not be familiar to the company.”

      Related: 5 essential habits of today’s highly effective CIOs         

From keeping the lights on to reinventing the light bulb

Whereas CIOs have typically been responsible for executing and maintaining technical operations within the company, a majority of leaders now see it as a highly strategic role.

CIO chief information officer

In fact, that CIO Transitions report found that the role’s top objectives in their first year are operational excellence, creating a clear vision and roadmap, and finding, nurturing and mentoring talent.

“CIOs, more and more, are being asked to take on fairly significant leadership roles within their organizations,” says Kark, adding that increased visibility into their progress by shareholders and other staff members has added more pressure not just to maintain, but innovate. “The actual hiring process is taking a lot longer because companies are really looking for a business leader, not just a tech functional leader.”

From bimodal to multimodal

With all of these new roles and responsibilities, one of the greatest assets of a highly effective CIO today is time management.

CIOs not only need to be able to juggle multiple projects moving at various speeds, but also effectively prioritize what is most deserving of their time, according to the Deloitte expert.

“It’s about adjusting your speed based on the needs and the requirements of the business,” said Kark, adding that expectations typically vary between digital native and legacy organizations. “That means IT’s processes and systems and operating model all need to change and adjust to that expectation.”

Up Next: What’s on the minds of most CIOs today?

What’s on your CIO’s priority list?

Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, covering a variety of topics, including technology, careers, entrepreneurship, politics and music. His work regularly appears in major publications in Canada, the United States and around the world, including the Globe and Mail, Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, Rolling Stone, Politico, the Guardian and more.

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