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Mission control: The evolution of the CIO role

Mission control: The evolution of the CIO role

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CIOs often find themselves at the center of crucial decision-making. Arthur Hu, SVP and Global CIO at Lenovo, explores the difficulties faced by CIOs, how they may evolve and best-practices to respond to new challenges.

Arthur Hu, SVP and Global CIO at Lenovo

The role of the CIO has changed dramatically over the last few years. Today’s CIOs are often key decision-makers in the C-suite and central to driving strategy within their organization. It is a role that has become increasingly complex and significant.

As a result, CIOs are being pulled in multiple directions. CEOs want them to generate new revenue streams with technology. Customer-servicing teams depend on them to come up with the next ground-breaking AI chatbot. Procurement teams want to know how fast they can shift data from legacy infrastructure to new cloud systems. All while cybercrime is growing more sophisticated as hackers learn to circumvent network security.

Becoming mission control

Lenovo’s recent global CIO study confirmed this; nine in 10 CIOs report that their roles and responsibilities have expanded greatly beyond managing technology. Their influence today extends to areas such as ESG, diversity, equity and inclusion, HR and talent acquisition and even sales and marketing.

Today, many CIOs find themselves in the ‘mission control’ seat of their organizations. The majority (88%) believe their role is the most critical component of their company’s continued operation and 77% believe their performance is more important to the success of their organization than the work of other C-suite roles.

And communicating effectively is more important than ever. Successfully conveying the tech strategy to internal stakeholders and partners is as important as the implementation of the strategy itself. In addition, CIOs can facilitate communication across the enterprise. They are uniquely positioned to see the bigger picture across the entire organization, transcending departmental silos. Acting as a critical hub, CIOs can represent the needs of different parts of the business, which is especially important when rapid changes need to be implemented.

The acceleration of Digital Transformation

The promotion of the CIO to ‘mission control’ was well underway even pre-pandemic. Digital disruption and emerging technologies were already providing CIOs with more opportunities to innovate internally. By extension, they were called upon to hone their organization’s competitive edge and uplift the customer and employee experience, with over 72% of large businesses and 64% of medium-sized business already having an online and physical presence pre-pandemic.

The rise of remote work during the pandemic accelerated this transformation: 82% said the CIO role has become more challenging compared to two years ago, as they confront a vast array of new challenges, from the increasing use of AI and automation, to talent acquisition among a global, remote workforce. Some of the most pressing challenges cited in Lenovo’s study include data privacy and security (66%), cybersecurity and ransomware (66%) and keeping up with technological change (65%).

All of this means that today’s CIOs are under intense pressure to perform and deliver results according to critical business metrics, like creating new business opportunities and revenue streams.

Scalability = flexibility

One way CIOs can tackle these challenges is to ensure their organization’s tech stack is lean and nimble enough to handle complex transformation projects and respond quickly to external threats. In a digitized environment, an unnecessary delay at one discreet point can impact all areas of internal operations.

During the pandemic, organizations that were agile and flexible were able to minimize disruptions and experienced an almost seamless migration to remote work. This demonstrated the power of scalability as it enables companies to flex when they need to, responding quickly to sudden organizational demands or external threats while mitigating risk.

Finding a suitable co-pilot

Faced with multiple priorities at once, CIOs are turning to tech vendors to keep up with the pace of technology while addressing critical business needs. In fact, many CIOs say they expect to work with vendors to help increase operational efficiencies and stay ahead of the demands of their businesses.

Today’s CIO must respond agilely to unforeseen challenges – both internal and external. The most successful ones will see the value in engaging with technology partners who can act as co-pilots. Empowering them to co-create a tech stack that is agile, scalable and ready for the future.

X-as-a-Service delivers

Tech vendors can help CIOs manage their priorities by offering an X-as-a-Service model for IT hardware, software and services, providing companies of all sizes ultimate operational and technological flexibility. This is especially important as companies strive to deliver innovation and steady growth in the face of economic headwinds.

The X-as-a-Service model also frees in-house teams from handling routine and tedious IT processes and infrastructure maintenance. Instead, they can focus on higher-value business initiatives. Simply put, CIOs can spend their time innovating, not managing IT. Recognizing this, if given the opportunity to improve efficiency, 57% of CIOs say they would replace half or more of their company’s current technology. Nearly all (92%) would consider adding new X-as-a-Service offerings over the next two years.

By embracing an X-as-a-Service model, businesses also benefit from greater cost efficiency, as they only pay for what they need. Moving away from traditional cash purchases and leases and transitioning to a scalable X-as-a-Service model is quickly becoming the norm.

By outsourcing infrastructure management to vendors, organizations are shifting from a solely Capital Expense (CAPEX) approach to IT operations, which requires substantial up-front investments to purchase, maintain and upgrade assets. By working with third parties and utilizing X-as-a-Service models, CIOs can now fund these as part of their Operating Expense (OPEX) to support the day-to-day business needs. Finance departments are then able to free up money for other key projects and investments across the business.  

The future of the CIO

The transformation of the role of the CIO, like the technology they advocate, will continue to evolve to meet the pace of innovation in the industry. Due to unprecedented levels of Digital Transformation, combined with the scale of investment required to deliver new infrastructure for hybrid working, CIOs have been thrust into the spotlight more than ever before. Partnering with tech vendors that offer flexible solutions will be crucial to their success.

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