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The Transformation of the CIO

Brandon M. Lewis
Jul 1, 2021 1:57:21 PM

In this article, we discuss:

  1. Digital Transformation Factors
  2. Driving Change
  3. Integrating Tech
  4. Summary

Just as software and technology have transitioned from being cost centers to some of the primary profit engines of companies, so too must the role of the Chief Information Officer be transformed in order to respond to new challenges and provide strategic leadership.

Whereas the role of the CIO may have once been rather centered on managing the IT systems,  the modern CIO/CDO carries a much heavier weight on his or her shoulders. Innumerable industries, from automotive to finance to telecommunications, are being rapidly transformed by innovations in software. Incumbent firms are being disrupted by digital natives. COVID-19 only accelerated this. As such, the CIO holds the reins of new value creation and innovation in his hands. This is no easy task. 87% of companies believe digital will disrupt their industry, and yet only 44% are prepared for it.

The reasons for this are clear and abundant. Migrating away from legacy systems into the cloud is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. Software development itself is an opaque, complex process that in many companies is now comprised of an ever expanding codebase of hundreds of millions of lines of code. It often runs past deadlines and over budget. Yet, another reason is that the CIO needs to embrace his or her new role as the agent for change.

The New CIO: Captain of Digital Transformation

It's vital to understand the essence of digital transformation before contemplating the new role and responsibilities of CIOs. Different companies and different industries have very diverse digitalization needs. For example, a financial institution's largest challenge may be migrating away from its outdated legacy system. An insurer may focus on the applications of artificial intelligence, advanced predictive analytics, and the Internet of Things. Incumbent automobile manufacturers, on the other hand, are busy playing catch up in developing autonomous and electric vehicles.

Regardless of the specific digitalization challenges facing a company, a CIO needs to consider these three factors: 

  • Software Development Strategies: Implementing an agile approach is just the start. Even as software development is the powerhouse of innovation, in most companies it suffers from a dearth of transparency. This renders it unmanageable, highly inefficient, and prone to bugs and delays. Software Process Mining shines a bright light in the metaphorical software factory using intuitively understandable KPIs and software visualizations. Through this, CIOs and executives are able to actively monitor, steer, and strategize their software development projects.
  • Future Flexibility: The only permanence in life is change. Ensure that the rapid, and often unpredictable, technological change doesn't make your digital transformation obsolete. Modularity can be of great help with this.
  • Security: If the news of the last few months has taught only one lesson, then it's this: Cyber security is paramount for the survival and growth of companies. As a part of future-proofing their organizations, CIOs must ensure that they are not vulnerable to ransomware or other malicious attacks that can literally shut down the ability to operate or serve customers.

The Responsibilities of the Transformative CIO

The role of software is no longer merely as the source of costs, but rather as the determinant of a company's survival and prosperity. The new CIO needs to take on greater responsibilities than ever before in order to drive a successful, ongoing digital transformation. The role of the CIO will be multifaceted.

CIO: Driver of Change–Culturally, Technologically, Institutionally

While it can be a source of overlooked success, the fact that IT often operates quite independently from the business-side can also be disadvantageous. It becomes difficult to get buy-in. It can be quite challenging to convince CFOs to invest in necessary, but expensive projects such as technical debt reduction or system migration. This needs to change. 

Software is increasingly central to business strategies and models. As technology and software projects are vital to the continued success and survival of companies, CIOs must work to tear down the walls separating IT from business. This starts with gaining a deep understanding of how the different functional business units operate and what their needs are through panel discussions and speaking with the relevant managers. By understanding the needs of the business and its customers, CIOs can ensure that the IT is delivering a digital offering that creates value and revenue, and that their dynamic plans account for the business side's concerns.

A true digital transformation is an ongoing process that involves more than merely new technologies, but rather placing tech at the center of important strategic discussions. Collaboration and discussion are often the key, not only to make certain that tech initiatives are correctly prioritized, but also to make adoption by other departments more likely. Active collaboration builds the trust needed for large initiatives and organizational cohesion. IT should be seen as an equal partner, not just a mere service provider or consultant. Using trust and relationships, CIOs can build support for their digital transformation initiatives and convince their fellow C-Suite executives of the full range of benefits the transformation will provide.

Integrating Tech

Unfortunately, partially due to the complexity and opacity of software, many tech transformations in the past have failed. These failures have been expensive and time consuming. While there can be a myriad of reasons why these transformations fail, it often can be summed up as some mix of two reasons: the overwhelming complexity of software development and/or a lack of collaboration and adoption, as explained above.

To combat both, it is important that the CIO educates business leaders about technology and the state of transformation efforts. Many have found a digital boardroom to be quite effective in this, simply because it provides an intuitively understandable overview of a company's software development through the means of KPIs, while still allowing for a deeper drill-down when and where additional attention from leadership is necessary. On a more micro-level, the digital boardroom with its complementary software visualizations also empowers software developers within the organization to quickly identify code that is responsible for defects, technical debt, or other gross inefficiencies, which in turn allows for a streamlined digital transformation.

But educating other leaders within the company also goes beyond this. CIOs need to convince them of how their solutions will address and solve critical business challenges, so that other executives have a deeper level of understanding than merely costs or the general strategy.


As the economy enters an age of hyper-digitalization, where most innovation and new value creation comes through software and where technology threatens to disrupt major industries, the CIO has an outsized influence on his company's success. Digital transformation is a challenging, ongoing endeavor that requires the CIO to be a transformative leader in her company's culture and approach vis-á-vis software and technology. Through collaboration with department heads, CIOs can both gain and share deeper insights into how transformation efforts will address underlying business issues, while also ensuring buy-in and adoption. In educating leaders and helping steer digitalization efforts, a digital boardroom can be a powerful tool by providing transparency into software development. 


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