Are CIOs running out of time?

hourglass time running outCIOs continue to look out of step with their colleagues in the C-suite according to the 14th Annual State of the CIO research published recently by the US edition of CIO Magazine. The study, which covered 558 IT leaders, also asked 304 non-IT executives some of the same questions posed to the technology heads and the responses to these questions are both revealing and worrying.

When asked whether the IT function was an obstacle to progress in their organisation, 33% of CIOs said their department was a hindrance to getting things done. That figure is a concern on its own but even more so when compared to the 54% of business leaders who see their IT function as an obstacle. That is quite a difference in opinion. It is worrying enough that a third of CIOs believe their own teams are slowing the business down but the fact this is actually the case in over a half of organisations and the respective CIOs are unaware is surely a sign that these CIOs are out of touch with the rest of the business.

Further evidence of the gap between CIOs and other business leaders came on the subject of quick wins. I have often heard CIOs – particularly those in their first few months of a new role – talk about the need to implement quick wins to build credibility with other functions. In the CIO Magazine study 51% of CIOs identified quick wins as key tactic in improving relationships with other functions yet only 31% of business leaders said that this was an effective approach to building credibility. So whilst CIOs focus on short-term improvements the rest of the business is looking for longer-term solutions.

With more non-IT executives becoming involved in technology decisions and making technology investments from their own budgets many CIOs are finding themselves in a struggle to retain their traditional position of control over IT across the organisation. Hence why 36% say they are in a “turf battle in the C-suite.” However, they may be underestimating the extent of the problem, as 47% of business leaders believe such a battle is happening in their business.

These findings point to a significant gap between how CIOs view their role and contribution, and the views of their C-suite colleagues. It is perhaps not surprising then that while only 20% of CIOs believe their role is being sidelined, 37% of business leaders say the CIO role is diminishing in importance and influence.

But this is not the first time we have seen research that shows a difference in the perspectives of the CIO and other business leaders. And there have been numerous surveys over the last couple of years in particular in which non-IT leaders have highlighted the need for change in the way IT operates and what it contributes to the organisation.

The real issue is why we keep seeing these findings. Why are so many CIOs still out of step with other executives when they have been told time and time again that they need to change, that IT is failing to meet the needs of the business and that they face an uncertain future if they do not respond? And the evidence is there to support the survey results: shadow IT is growing, an increasing number of non-IT executives are opting to deal directly with technology vendors and the rise of the Chief Digital Officer are all signs that CIOs are not changing to meet the needs and expectations of the rest of the business.

We have also seen plenty of surveys and headlines predicting the demise of the CIO role. In many cases these have been prompted by new technologies such as cloud and the increasing role that non-IT leaders are playing in technology expenditure as organisations invest in digital initiatives. In the case of cloud the argument has been made that in the future CIOs and IT functions will not be needed as other functions will simply procure everything they need from cloud-based vendors. And the fact that some non-IT functions are spending more on technology has been interpreted as further evidence that the CIO will not be required in the future as other functions will be spending more on IT than the central IT function.

As I have explained in previous articles neither of these claims are correct. The emergence of technologies such as cloud does not spell the end of the CIO. In fact they make the CIO role more important, but it is a different role to the one the CIO has played in the past. For example, with cloud services the CIO and the IT function will need to ensure the right vendors and services are selected and that issues such as integration and security are addressed. So, even if other functions procure cloud services from their own budgets, the organisation will need its CIO and IT function to set standards and implement policies for, and manage the procurement and use of, cloud services.

Front cover advertSimilarly with other functions now spending more on technology, it could be argued that CIOs are growing in importance as they have a key role to play in leading, guiding and influencing their organisation’s technology investments and for ensuring a joined-up and consistent approach across the various IT budgets and initiatives. CEOs will be looking to their CIOs for assurance that the other business functions are investing in the right technology and that it is being implemented in the right way.

In this new model, rather than being the gatekeeper of the technology budget and the provider of all technology used by the business, the new type of CIO and IT function act as brokers, providing advice, guidance and access to the technology required by the rest of the business. It is a far more important and valuable role but it requires a different type of CIO and a different type of IT function.

New technologies and other functions spending more on technology will not bring about the end of the CIO role. But a failure to respond to these developments and to make the necessary changes will. This is what the survey results are telling CIOs; IT is out of step with the rest of the business and cannot meet the needs and expectations of other functions as a result.

If CIOs continue to ignore the research and the real-world evidence about the need for change then they are very likely to find their roles being sidelined, diminished or removed altogether. And they will only have themselves to blame. The warning signs have been there for a while, the need for change clear and time is now running out for CIOs to act.

If you are a CIO that wants to reposition your role or if you want to create an IT function that can meet the needs of a digital business then please contact me or visit my website,


  1. […] on The CIO Leader, Ian Cox asks “Are CIO’s running out of time?”  In the article, Ian provides an excellent analysis of the current state of the CIO and argues […]

  2. […] very little has changed. CIOs still appear to be out of step with their C-suite colleagues (see Are CIOs running out of time?) when it comes to understanding their value to the organisation and how their colleagues in the […]


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