2017 State of the CIO: Strategic advisor to the business

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CIO as Digital Leader

For the last 16 years, CIO.com has conducted its State of the CIO survey to shine a light on CIO challenges and opportunities for the year ahead. The annual report also aims to capture what business manager think of their CIO and IT colleagues by surveying line of business leaders as well. We caught up with Adam Dennison, senior vice president and publisher of CIO.com, to learn more about the trends uncovered by this year’s survey – including why the average tenure of the CIO is shrinking, and where CIOs are focusing their time and energy in 2017.

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): This is the 16th year of the State of the CIO report. What’s new about the report this year, and what has stayed consistent?

Adam Dennison: Every year, we aim to survey both heads of IT and line of business leaders but, in the past, we’ve typically only had 100 or so respondents on the business side. This year, we had 200 business-side respondents across engineering, sales, marketing, HR, operations, and the C-Suite. In addition to having a more balanced audience, we asked more questions of both IT and business leaders this year, making 2017 our most robust survey yet. 

As we do every year, we changed up about 40 percent of the survey to stay relevant and capture new trends in IT. The other 60 percent we track year over year to show changes in what we describe as the KPIs of the CIO role. 

TEP: One of the KPI metrics you track is the average CIO tenure, and in 2017 it shrunk by a full year. CIOs reported that they’ve been in their current position for five years, six months, as opposed to six years, six months in 2016. What do you think that says about the current state of the CIO role?

Dennison: What’s most interesting is from 2012 to 2016, our trend data shows a fairly steady climb in CIO tenure, from about five and a half years to about six and a half years. This year it abruptly dropped down a full year. I think there are three primary reasons for this drop.  

This trend is good news for CIOs – they’ve got the technical expertise, and now that they are using it to drive other aspects of the business forward.

For one, mergers and acquisitions across all industries, company sizes, and verticals are at a fever pitch and have been for the past 18 to 24 months. It’s not uncommon for a CIO to lose his or her job because of a new CEO in their company. So when you’re seeing M&A occur at warp speed, you’re sure to have situations in which new C-suites have to either come together or go through a sea change.  
Another shift we are seeing is that of IT leaders moving into business roles. We conducted a survey over the summer of both business and IT leaders that showed a 13 percent increase year over year in IT leaders moving into business roles. Rebecca Jacoby is a great example. She was the CIO of Cisco for 11 years before transitioning into the role of SVP of operations. This trend is good news for CIOs – they’ve got the technical expertise, and now that they are using it to drive other aspects of the business forward. But it’s a factor that it going to push the CIO tenure down.

And finally, the C-suite is typically made up of folks who are in their late 40s, 50s, early 60s – some even older than that. When you look at the baby boomer generation and you do the math, thousands are coming upon retirement age every day. So, those are three areas that may be impacting CIO tenure right now. I don’t think it’s a bad thing by any stretch, but it’s a trend that we may see continue as long as these three factors continue to stay in play.

TEP: What’s an example of a new trend or insight uncovered by the report this year?

Dennison: Because we had more respondents on the business side than any of the previous years, we formulated a new question only for those 200 business-side participants. We asked, “Which of the following best characterizes your CIO when it comes to technology considerations?” We gave them five choices with five definitions: strategic advisor, consultant, risk assessor, road block, and rogue player.

By far, the top response was strategic advisor, at 41 percent. The next closest response, consultant, was another 22 percent, bringing the combined total for these two important roles to two-thirds of the responses to this question. The biggest difference between the two definitions was that strategic advisor was described as a proactive role, while consultant was described as reactive. However, there’s a collaborative nature to both. That’s a positive for the CIO role, and, I think, better than it would have been ten, five, or even three years ago.

On the other side, the negative roles are roadblock and rogue player. Nineteen percent of respondents categorized their CIO this way. That’s not a small number. But with the majority falling into the strategic advisor/consultant categories, I think it shows where the CIO role is at.

TEP: Based on the results of this year’s survey, what would you say are the top priorities for CIOs today?

Dennison: I would say No. 1 is transforming your organization to become more customer-centric. We asked both heads of IT and line of business leaders, “How often are you meeting with external customers?” And we found that 76 percent of IT leaders are meeting with customers frequently or occasionally. There were only two other lines of business that outranked IT leaders in this regard: sales at 86 percent, and operations at 83 percent. Every other group, including marketing, was significantly behind the CIO. I found that very telling in terms of where CIO priorities lie. 

Another big priority is security risk management. Both last year and this year we asked, “How tightly aligned is your security strategy with your IT strategy?” Last year 37 percent of CIOs reported that they were tightly aligned. This year that number jumped to 51 percent. What that tells me is that CIOs are being more strategic in this area – they have teams in place, perhaps they hired a CISO that they didn’t have before, or they’ve outsourced certain security processes. Bottom line, they are getting smarter around the issues that have traditionally “kept CIOs up at night,” so that they can spend more time focusing on the customer and their digital business efforts. 

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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