CIOs are viewed as the most important senior leaders in driving business transformation, according to analysts Forrester, with many believing them to have more input than a CEO.

Speaking at the Forrester CIO Forum event in London, Forrester vice president and principal analyst Marc Cecere highlighted the CIO's key role in supporting business transformation, with technology playing a key part in breaking down barriers within an organisation's structure.

“CIOs are in a unique and potentially powerful position for business transformation, and they need to understand their base of power,” Cecere said. “After the strategy phase, 80% of the work and activity falls under the role of the CIO, so a strong role for a CIO is a given.”

Cecere view was backed up by a survey of 101 North American and European respondents involved in a business transformation project in the past three years. The survey revealed that 29% of respondents believed the CIO to be the most important figure in terms of supporting and driving business change. This was the highest amongst the C-suite, and more than that of the CEO which was seen as most important by 24% of respondents, alongside the chief technology officer.

As a consequence, CIOs should be able to take a more commanding role in business transformation, even those which are not usually privy to the top level decisions, Cecere said.

He pointed out the pitfalls of a CIO not taking a strong position in the business transformation decision making process, citing one unnamed enterprise which failed to involve the CIO on a decision to implement SAP across the company. Although the technology was sound, he said, problems which could have been foreseen by the CIO – such as security and scalability – which were overlooked by non-technical staff, leading to significant problems later on in the project.

According to Cecere there are four main 'types' of CIO that can be identified in terms of their involvement in transformation projects, and their ability to lead change.

At one end of the spectrum are the 'soldiers' or order-takers,who do not have the ear of the project leader in the way that other CIOs often do. These account for roughly 10% of CIOs. Soldier CIOs should, as a minimum, make sure that the business leaders are aware of the potential pitfalls of a project, and highlight the most damaging mistakes to any allies with greater influence on the project.

'Leaders of IT' were identified as those who successfully balance IT and enterprise business needs, and are capable of ensuring that the appropriate IT functions are involved in a transformation project, as well as providing an wider enterprise focus. This type accounts for the majority of CIOs, approximately 70%.

'Change consultants', around one in 10 CIOs, have extensive experience in advising and consulting on the business transformation process, having been involved in projects in the past, and are able to implement templates, best practices and learning from other companies.

Less common are 'transformation leaders', which are given the responsibility to lead the transformation themselves, ensuring effective resource application, funding and progress tracking, and reporting directly to the CEO. This CIO role is relatively uncommon, Cecere pointed out, accounting for around 5-10%.

However he said that CIOs do no neatly fit into each of these categories, and their role often has elements of each, with the 'soldier' type sometimes being called up to lead a project due when there are requirements around data or security in the implementation of a system.