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What don't people understand about being a CIO?

What don't people understand about being a CIO?

CIOs' part in IPOs, the operational expertise required and the cross-functional nature of the role are often misunderstood, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.

Good afternoon! In today's Braintrust, we asked seven chief information officers about what people often misunderstand about their roles and gave them a chance set the record straight. Like this format? We asked CEOs the same question back in May, and you can read that edition here.

Jae Evans

CIO at Oracle

The CIO’s role has changed significantly in the past few years. Once responsible for operating internal tech systems to “keep the lights on,” the CIO role has evolved to where they are part of both the internal and external business ecosystem. Working with departments across the company and with customers and partners, the CIO delivers products and experiences for customers and ensures that the sales, marketing, finance, HR and other teams have the tools they need to operate efficiently and identify new revenue opportunities.

Today’s CIO collaborates with peers and innovative solutions to enable their strategic direction for the business. The intermingling and cross-organizational implications of data is another driver for our role changing. Data can no longer be siloed by a single line of business. To provide a positive experience to customers and employees, data must be integrated. The CIO can use data to help organizations measure and understand their customers, markets and employees so they can compete best in a fast-changing economy.

Once relegated to the back office, the top priority for today’s CIOs is spending time with both internal and external stakeholders. CIOs must understand the needs and challenges of customers to create the right technologies to solve problems, rather than shoehorning tech for tech's sake into the business. CIOs must now manage much more than IT. A customer-centric mindset, close alignment with business leaders, and a data and measurement-driven strategy that maps to business priorities are central elements of the CIO’s role today.

Prasad Ramakrishnan

CIO at Freshworks

CIOs are no longer just an IT leader — we are business leaders who play an integral role in helping businesses transform and meet their goals. As part of this, CIOs need to step aside from their everyday tasks and look at the big picture of what a business needs and how they help bring that to fruition. It comes down to a shift in mindset and narrative as to what a CIO can bring to the table.

One example of this is the strategic leadership that is necessary ahead of a major company milestone, like an IPO. It’s critical for CIOs to be ready to work alongside CEOs, CFOs and chief legal officers to get a business ready for public offerings. There’s work to do on many fronts, from upgrading the finance team’s technology so they can finalize accounts even faster, to shrinking the number of internal dashboards into a “single source of truth” so key players are able to have a greater degree of control and governance within the organization.

As Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege,” and a CIO needs to have a thick skin and deal with adversity in a calm and rational way, because technology is sometimes unpredictable and people depend on it. As a leader, a CIO needs to demonstrate that they can handle the pressure and work in an agile way to delight both employees and customers.

Wendy M. Pfeiffer

CIO at Nutanix

The most common misperception about CIOs is that we are the single-threaded chief nerds in the enterprise — geeks, endlessly fascinated by gadgets and software and infrastructure above all else. If the enterprise were a race car, we’d be the chief mechanics, working on the engine.

But this isn’t quite right. Although we are deeply technical, we blend an equal measure of operational expertise into the mix. In fact, in addition to our interest in technology tooling, we also possess a deep interest in finding optimal pathways to use technology in service to business outcomes. Going back to our “enterprise as race car” model, you’d never find us in pit row. Instead, look for us behind the wheel of the car — using our knowledge of how to drive technology to enable our team to win.

Kathy Kay

CIO at Principal Financial Group

What many people don’t understand is that the role of CIO is not just about leveraging technology to build new products and solutions for your customers and for your employees. The modern CIO has to wear a business hat, an HR hat, a finance hat, in addition to an innovation hat, all at the same time. At Principal, our technology strategy starts with our business strategy, and our customer is at the center of both. As technology becomes a more critical component across the enterprise, especially as more organizations prioritize modernizing their tech stacks, the CIO needs to position themselves advantageously across all aspects of the business. The technology is actually the easy part — the hardest is ensuring all of these departments are working together and communicating with one another to create the crucial alignment needed for a truly customer-centric strategy.

John Abel

CIO at Extreme Networks

Mostly that it’s a 24/7 role. We live in an always-on world, and technology plays a big role in that. We’re not a hospital or a casino, but as a global tech company we’re always on. You must be prepared for anything at any time, which is why it’s key to hire a strong team and empower them.

Next to the CEO, the CIO role is the most cross-functional role in the company. A good CIO aligns technology decisions and purchases with business goals and can properly support every department in the enterprise, which includes choosing the best technology partners.

Being a CIO is not just about infrastructure and technology. A good CIO really invests themselves in the business and being a partner that helps solve complex problems through better use of technology. As a technology company, we are the first stop to “test” if our products pass the sniff test for the market. We represent the persona of our buyers, and being that barrier between product management and the broader market is a key role for us.

Gill Haus

CIO for consumer and community banking at JPMorgan Chase

The incredible thing about being CIO is having direct responsibility over the technology and architecture decisions that drive the future of Chase. I lead 12,000 technologists that build the technology powering the digital experiences of more than 60 million digitally active customers. In the last few years, we’ve undergone an agility and product transformation that has improved collaboration and innovation across our product, technology, data and analytics, and design teams. Every day, my colleagues and I work closely with these teams to create new products and features, and enhance existing ones, that make it easier for our customers to reach their financial goals, buy their dream home, book a vacation, invest and more.

As a CIO, the job goes beyond just overseeing technology and technologists at a firm. To be successful, you have to take a hands-on approach and get in the trenches with your team. It also involves being a coach and mentor, helping employees learn and grow, fostering an inclusive culture and removing roadblocks so that colleagues can get the job done. As leaders, CIOs have a broad impact on the business, but also on culture. Which is why I try to foster the importance of being kind to people, embracing diversity in all its forms and celebrating both success and failure. CIOs set the tone of their organization and influence how members of their team interact and perform. By creating the right conditions, people can freely exchange ideas and perspectives that drive innovation and solve problems more effectively.

Guido Sacchi

CIO at Global Payments

As businesses turn their attention to a new set of challenges, the pandemic’s impact on C-suite strategy is worth noting for its significance and staying power. Over the last few years, a dramatic shift occurred that accelerated digitization across industries. Companies leaned on technology to survive and thrive. The technology and business agendas merged, and many people don’t realize that this new way of thinking has evolved the CIO role into one that fuses technology strategy and business growth. The C-suite is looking to CIOs with new intensity to drive business objectives and achieve financial goals.

On a practical level, people may not understand that CIOs are now spending substantially more time on using technology to drive the business forward. Many companies’ business strategy is predicated on distinctive software, delivered rapidly and at scale. This shift will likely manifest itself in technology investments that prioritize automation solutions, improving the omnichannel experience and leveraging the public cloud to achieve scale and agility. As the role has evolved into such a key position for a company’s success, CIOs are uniquely positioned in the executive suite to architect and deliver what every business wants: growth and resilience.

See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Aug. 11 2022).
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