Role of CIOs In Enterprise Digital Transformation
Digital Transformation

The (Changing) Role of CIOs In Enterprise Digital Transformation

As digital transformation impacts more business enterprises, it is giving rise to new business models. The “Future of Jobs” report from the World Economic Forum predicts that more tasks will move from humans to machines, thus creating more disruptions and opportunities. In these times, it is no longer enough for enterprises to focus on a digital transformation journey. Business enterprises need to switch to a “digital acceleration” mode to gain a competitive advantage. 

What does all this mean for enterprise CIOs? Historically, they have been responsible for the deployment, management, and maintenance of IT systems across the organization. They have also played a crucial role in companies’ digital transformation efforts. But a new survey of more than 500 CIOs reveals that the CIOs role itself is changing. 

4 out of 5 CIOs believe the importance of their role has increased over the past few years. In addition to technical know-how, CIOs are also expected to contribute to the corporate strategy.

What is the changing role of CIOs in enterprise-level digital transformation? Let’s discuss. 

Need to overcome resistance

As IT leaders, CIOs need to ensure that their organization is using the latest innovative technology tools and solutions. However, due to technical complexities, CIOs also need to manage a greater workforce that is uncomfortable and resistant to this change. Here’s why:

  • Fear of job displacement with repetitive “human” tasks being replaced with automation.
  • Hesitancy to learn new skills and practices that are part of any digital transformation initiative.
  • Feeling unwanted and distrustful due to lack of proper communication by managers or CIOs as to the reasons driving the digital change.

To overcome resistance, CIOs must act as “trusted allies” and address employee concerns through open communication. Further, they can highlight the benefits of digital transformation to the entire team, while taking initiatives to break through organizational resistance. Through regular leadership talks with employees and other business executives, CIOs need to acknowledge and address the root causes of resistance. 

Upskilling the existing workforce

The prevailing skills gap means that 54% of existing employees will require considerable reskilling and upskilling by 2022. Of those requiring new skills, 35% will need additional training of up to 6 months or longer.

In their new role, CIOs need to prioritize continuous learning in their organization. For a reskilling program to be successful, CIOs must build and support a work environment that encourages new skill acquisition, natural curiosity, and continuous improvement. With their evolving roles, CIOs can now focus on breaking down any technology barriers that prevent collaboration and learning, so that employees can stretch beyond the constraints of their job and take up new and innovative projects.

For instance, Marks & Spencer created a retail data academy to upskill over 1,000 employees and Airbnb developed its own Data University to provide its employees with the skills to make data-driven decisions.

Expand the role of IT beyond technology

As businesses shift towards emerging technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and focus more on customer experience, CIOs of the future can no longer remain “technology specialists” and will need to grow towards being “business strategists.” At the same time, IT pillars like the Cloud and DevOps require a shift towards reskilling the existing IT teams. 

The new form of IT literacy would no longer be about acquiring individual knowledge (for example, database administration or app development) but on how to map these skills to the overall business strategy. To enable this shift, CIOs can consider partnering IT with other business departments and removing any restrictive technology barriers. 

Gartner reports that today’s CIOs are as important for the “organization culture” as chief HR officers.

Display openness to partner and collaborate internally and externally

In an increasingly digital world, successful CIOs will need to be skilled at building partnerships, both internal and external.

David Seidl, CIO at Miami University, agrees with this. He says, “Partnerships depend on your role, and what your organization needs you to do. I’ve seen great CIOs who were asked to build external partnerships and had problems because their team couldn’t or wouldn’t maintain the internal while their leader was focused outside.”

Among the successful real-life cases, Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research center, worked with a major cloud partner to build a comprehensive training plan to allow scientists across the institute to enhance their expertise in the cloud.

Lead the change

Can CIOs be the future agents of change? Yes, the CIO of the modern age is not only a technology driver but also a business strategist. The 2018 Deloitte report titled, “Manifesting legacy” talks of CIOs of the future transforming business operations and driving more revenue growth.

How do CIOs address the growing demands of enterprise IT? They will need to be fully integrated with the company’s operations and management and create and implement business solutions backed by technological expertise. Their participation will also be crucial in business functions like HR, product management, and logistics. 

A 2020 study by, revealed that over 89% of the tech leaders surveyed spend their time as change agents and 67% regularly make business strategy decisions. This indicates that CIOs are moving away from day-to-day management and towards becoming strategic business leaders.


Given these changes in the CIO role, it’s expected that they will adapt their professional skills to meet today’s demands and the changing business environment. 

At Heptagon, we help companies leverage technology in their digital transformation journey. As the CIO, are you looking for a reliable partner in the digital transformation initiative?   Reach out to us. 

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