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Defining the CIO position: Don't box yourself in

It’s easy to resort to labels when talking about the CIO position: strategic CIOs versus operational CIOs, the digital visionaries versus the keep-the-lights-on types, team players versus the so-called rock stars. A recent survey from Deloitte’s CIO Program adds to the litany. Based on the responses of 1,271 CIOs and senior tech leaders from 43 countries, Deloitte uncovered three categories of CIOs:

  • Trusted operator
  • Change instigator
  • Business co-creator

Unlike other expert commentary that suggests one type of CIO position is better than another, however, the Deloitte study doesn’t choose sides. Instead, it makes the welcome observation that the CIO role will and should vary from business to business — and even in the same business, change over time.

“There is no judgment around one versus the other. The best category is the one that is matched to what your organization needs in the moment,” Karen Mazer, U.S. CIO program lead at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said in a webinar reviewing the survey findings.

If the business is in cost-containment or reduction mode, it likely needs a trusted operator in the CIO position. A business trying to set a vision for the future and leverage cutting edge technologies to do that, needs a change instigator. A rapidly expanding company deciding on the long-term tech investments required to accommodate growth, probably needs a CIO who is a business co-creator.

Rather than fret about which category they fit in, Mazer suggested CIOs first answer these questions:

  1. What CIO pattern do you identify with and are you aligned with the business needs of today?
  2. What does the business need to be doing? Should it be looking more to the future, and how are you preparing yourself for where the business needs to go? Do you have the skills and confidence to drive the organization forward?

While Deloitte does not pass judgment on the roles that define the CIO position, survey respondents had definite ideas about which type of CIO they aspired to be.

Over half the survey takers who identified as trusted operators or change instigators said they would like to be business co-creators. Mazer said it is important for those types of IT leaders to identify the reason their CIO positions are not aligned with their personal aspirations. Is it because they’re not where their organization is, or is it because they lack the CIO skills required to be in that category?

“The best CIOs can adapt to the needs of the environment they operate in and change with the times,” Mazer said.

For detailed descriptions of the three CIO categories, go to part two of this post, “CIO report: Three CIO archetypes and how each delivers IT value.”