A history of the CIO will clearly show that IT in many organizations has been a strange and winding path. After starting out as technology directors camped out in a basement below the mailroom, tech leaders found themselves reporting to C-Suite entities including the CFO, COO, president, and more. As their responsibilities grew and changed, tech leaders were given their own “C” and now find themselves in the boardroom on an increasingly frequent basis.
A look back makes two things come into focus:
- The role of the CIO has changed and is continuing to change, and
- There is not a clear path for career progression in the technology space.
The role of the CIO is continuing to evolve from that of a transactional support leader whose customers are others in the organization, to that of a strategic partner who shares the same customers as the rest of the organizational leaders. While on the surface this change can seem minor, it is a fundamental shift. Primary, the role of the CIO is not about technology anymore. It is about innovation management and organizational improvement.
For modern CIOs to be successful, they must partner with other organizational leaders. They must deeply understand how each organizational unit operates, and how to bring innovation and improvement to each area. Sometimes, that is a technology solution, and other times it is process improvement, opportunities to de-silo work breakdown structures, or perhaps a shift in resources or organizational priorities.
This new organizational perspective is rare and unique to the modern CIO position. With growing exposure to P&L, key organization-wide initiatives, and newly formed C-Suite relationships, the experienced modern CIO is starting to be considered a wise choice for the CEO.
This is confirmed by a quick online search of “CIO to CEO” which will show that Greg Carmichael of Fifth Third Bank, Stephen Gillett of Starbucks, Philip Clarke of Tesco PLC, Dawn Lepore of Schwab Co., and Tim Campos of Facebook have all made the successful transition from CIO to CEO. So have over 100 other former CIOs.
While each took a slightly different path to the CEO chair, their organizational viewpoint, experiences, and relationships made them strong choices to take on the new set of challenges that organizations are facing. The evidence is clear that CIO is no longer a terminal position. CIOs can now look forward to career movement beyond being the top technology leaders. Most importantly, CIOs can move from the basement to the boardroom.