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The Changing CEO-CIO Dynamics in the Covid Era


While technology and digital transformation are widely seen as critical to the success of any business, in the pre-Covid era, CEOs and tech leaders haven’t always collaborated on strategy and tactics. The pandemic is changing all that and creating greater opportunities for forward-looking tech executives who are looking to become agents of transformation.

Embed digital in the business strategy

A recent study by Deloitte and WSJ Intelligence that engaged 100 CEOs and 400 tech leaders across 22 industries and 19 countries, including India, shows the attitudes of CEOs and tech leaders are remarkably in sync about the importance of technology to enable business strategy in the current scenario. In fact, the research shows that high performing CEOs are 2.5 times more likely to make technology a top focus to advance organizational goals and that’s great news for tech leaders who are shaping their technology functions to deliver significantly more value to their organizations.

What needs to be understood is that Digital cannot be a standalone initiative but should be embedded in the business strategy. CIOs have a critical role in developing and fostering business strategy and their readiness to leverage technology is a key competence. The challenge is also very clear: If they don’t step up, other leaders within the organization will likely take on these roles. As Larry Quinlan, global CIO of Deloitte said in the study, “The role of a technology leader is not to develop a digital strategy or vision—it is to embed digital in the business strategy.”

The trick is to help ensure the exploration of emerging technologies is not divorced from real business issues. This is also an opportunity for CIOs to help co-create solutions that optimize existing business and deliver future growth.

“As digital disruption has placed technology at the heart of most business discussions, by exploiting the digital changes that lie ahead, CIOs can have a real influence and be regarded by CEOs as an important strategic business confidant and partner,” said Kumar Parakala, who leads the global digital business at GHD Digital.

But there are challenges in the process; the primary obstacles in leveraging technology to drive business value and impact are legacy environments, insufficient talent, lack of business leadership and a mindset to shift focus to business innovation.

Read more: Why CIOs Need to Break that Glass Ceiling

CIOs to become Business-savvy Technologist

To overcome these challenges, tech leaders should shift the mindset of the tech function from operator to creator, believe experts. In fact, the study shows clear evidence that as CEOs become increasingly dependent on their CIOs to shape and execute business strategy; they want their CIOs to have deep business acumen and experience as well as the ability to deploy emerging technology.

Technology proficiency is still critical, of course, but tech expertise and skills are now table stakes. Over the next 2-3 years, both CEOs and tech leaders agree tech organizations will also need to instigate and co-create business value in conjunction with other functions.

Successful tech leaders will likely focus on developing tech talent with emotional intelligence, empathy, and active listening more than just proficiency in artificial intelligence, analytics, and the Internet of Things, the report authors predict.

“Tech leaders need an informed opinion, and that comes from really understanding the business. Having a dialogue with business leaders is table stakes, but it’s also about uncovering perspectives through research,” Samir Daiya, CIO of Motorola Solutions said. “It’s essential to intrinsically understand the business to increase speed and precision versus being robotic about business cases all the time and corresponding priorities.”

Pushing the boundaries

The research clearly indicates that in the post-pandemic world, CEOs are clamoring to get aligned with tech leaders to drive the necessary changes through technology. Now, unlike before, CIOs have the license to push the boundaries, knowing that the CEO has their back.

In other words, the researchers note that IT leaders not just have a seat at the proverbial table, but CEOs are pulling the chair out and inviting, if not expecting, them to sit down and deliver. The opportunities for forward-looking tech executives are vast. Those who fail to become the new agents of transformation could see themselves marginalized and overtaken by chief digital officers and many others who are ready to accept a transformational role.

The good news is, CIOs who go beyond what their CEOs are asking of them can be valuable partners – and it is up to the CIO to drive that change.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at