News & Analysis

CIOs of the Future Need to be Panoptic

The question is how could they assume this position in a decentralized digital world where low code appears to be ruling the roost

The CIO was once considered the master of the universe. That was when technology guided the fate of an enterprise. Into this mix came the CFO who continuously harped on getting the best bang for the buck and the CMO who constantly co-related products and solutions to their ability to market the need. Amidst all this, the CIO perhaps lost a bit of sheen. 

But, not anymore! Today’s CIOs hold a panoptic view and are back to driving business strategy, albeit in a centralized organization spread across geographies. They seek synergies in vendor relationships, sync up high-performing verticals or geographies with the rest and guide the financial wizards towards early profitability through the use of emergent technologies. 

In some ways, the CIOs of today help the leadership team connect the dots, if one were to imagine the rest of the top brass as eagle-eyed business leaders constantly following trends in their respective domains, be it people, processes or the technologies that competitors use. This has been the most definitive outcome of the unfurling digital transformation story. 


Make no mistake! The CIO is back

Come to think of it, the name of the change management program lends itself to the CIO getting back some of her chutzpah in the hierarchy. They get a bird’s eye-view of all business functions and the context around which they connect with the broader organizational goals, right from the digital transformation progress to building capabilities, facing challenges etc. 

Which is why some business leaders today describe the CIO as the Chief Integration Officer – one who integrates the business to multiple cross-functional IT teams or brings together the partnership ecosystems for the larger benefit of the organization. Not to mention, also integrating the business with other businesses. 

The strategic nature of the CIO’s role was never in doubt as it is no more about heading a specific function in an organization. Today, the game is about creating the understanding among the leadership team as well as building the wherewithal, both in-house or in partnership, to deliver outcomes that the business strategies require. 


So, what changed in recent times?

Amongst the most crucial of these role changes that the CIO has gone through relates to bringing in the moolah – something that was never under their purview till recently. If a company spends money on data acquisition, the CIO needs to find the means to monetise it too. If dollars are spent on automation, the CIO is part of the team that seeks return on investments. 

Some of the big tech companies have taken a step further by redrawing their org charts where designations such as chief data officers and the erstwhile chief technology officers report into the Chief Integration Officer (CIO). The reason for the change being that the company perceives a more cohesive approach to technology strategy that dovetails into business goals. 


Beware! The decentralization conundrum

Having described the reasons for such change, we are now on the cusp of another. Companies are talking about decentralization as a means to driving sharper business goals by reducing the bureaucracy in decision-making. 

The DAO (decentralized autonomous org) is the buzzword for building sustainable enterprises, which would take a grounds-up approach instead of a top-down one. The challenge of the future would rest on what a business needs to control and what not – the guiding principle being how a set of processes can be replicated without central control. 

When it comes to technology-enabled services, one approach gathering favor is the low codebase form of development. The idea is to create frameworks around which others can create based on their location or community specific requirements. This offsets criticism being thrown at big tech companies keeping a lion’s share of the profits and apportioning a small part of it to the feet-on-street that makes the business successful. Take Uber and Swiggy’s case! 


Decentralizing thought vs action

However, that’s not what we are discussing here. How would a CIO need to think when there is a demand for setting up decentralized digital economies? Maybe, they need to function as integrators of business strategy itself, but with a difference. More than their technology prowess, the new role would require a tweak in their leadership styles. 

In a scenario where skill sets mismatch is more the norm than an exception, the CIO may need to bring divergent partners to the table and make it all work. The same could be envisioned when strategic goals of a company get dissipated when the DAO model becomes operational. Which means, it is no more about IT alone – it is about enabling people with IT.

And the only way this can be achieved is to adopt a new leadership style – one where IQ is replaced by EQ and listening has greater value than speaking. The CIO needs to willingly provide what the DAO participants need and not what is available on the table. And this needn’t be restricted to technology support. 

Having held centrestage during centralization, the challenge is to overcome the mind blocks and support the exact opposite. Which means support could be for local process creation, change management assistance, talent guidance without actually losing sight of the global perspective that each DAO would ultimately cherish. 

Maybe, the next transition for the CIO would result in them being known as the Chief Influence Officer. But, where would that leave the CEO then? 

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