A CIO-turned-author explains why exec support is so mission-critical

In Disrupt IT – a radical transformation of IT, longtime CIO Ian Cox draws upon his personal experience to help his peers understand how their role is evolving. This is the second of our two-part interview. Read part one here

CanadianCIO: What kind of executive support will be necessary for CIOs to be successful in the evolution you’re describing?

Ian Cox CIO CanadaIC: To be successful in challenging times, any executive needs the support of the CEO and their colleagues in the C-suite. This is particularly true when that executive is leading a transformation of their function whilst also trying to reposition their own role. But they also need that support and understanding on an ongoing basis to ensure that they can continue to do their job effectively.

And this is why the seventh principle in Disrupt IT is aimed specifically at the Board and the wider organisation to ensure they maximize the benefits from the new model for IT. A strong CIO and IT function that are focused on creating value is essential to succeeding in the digital age.

And whilst there is much for the CIO to do to achieve this, having a CEO that is engaged with technology is also a key step. The CEO needs to be clear about what they need and expect from the CIO role, and to communicate this to both the CIO and the rest of the organization. They also need to give the CIO the platform, profile and opportunity they need to shape and lead the digital transformation of their organization.

CanadianCIO:  How did your own development as a CIO compare to what you’re seeing in the enterprise today — what kind of mentorship would be particularly useful to CIOs now, and who could provide it?

IC: My route to the CIO position was fairly unusual in that I had never worked within an IT department before taking on my first CIO role. My background included commercial and operations management, business development and business change. I had, however, always worked very closely with IT departments and one of my earlier roles involved coding in a specialized language to build mathematical models. I had also led a number of technology-enabled business change initiatives.  So, whilst I had actually not worked in IT, I did understand technology and, perhaps more importantly, I understood how it could add value to the rest of the business. That enabled me to position IT as a more strategic and value-adding function in each of the organizations in which I held the CIO role and led to technology directly contributing to driving revenue and enabling new services.

We are beginning to see more examples of CIOs who have either come from another part of the business or who have spent at least part of their careers in another function. These are still very much the minority but my view is that we will see more CIOs with broader business experience and knowledge.

CanadianCIO: Gartner and others have talked about chief digital officers (CDO) eventually replacing the CIO. What’s your take on this issue?

IC: Gartner has also predicted that the CDO role will be temporary and that by 2020 it will probably disappear altogether! Either way I don’t see the CDO, or any other role for that matter, replacing the CIO. The digital business needs a strong CIO that works across the business to ensure an integrated and consistent approach to technology. The CIO occupies a unique position within the organization; no other role has the same end-to-end view of the business allowing them to gain an unparalleled understanding of the people, process and technology issues spanning the full business lifecycle.  Bypassing the CIO, or removing the role altogether, deprives the organization of this perspective and the holistic approach to its processes, systems and data.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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