Image: iStock
Image: iStock

The claim that every company is turning into a technology company becomes truer by the day. The relationship between the CIO and CEO can smooth the digital transition and then bring best practices for technology to scale.

Executives are taking note. More than half of CIOs now report to their organisation's CEOs and meet them at least once a week, according to the 2018 CIO 100.

Gartner Fellow and vice president Mark Raskino advises CIOs to use this relationship to encourage executives "into making 'no way back' commitments to digital business change".

Gartner expanded on this strategy in its 2018 CEO Survey, which it subtitled with a call to arms: "CIOs Should Guide Business Leaders Toward Deep-Discipline Digital Business".

The survey showed that 62% of executives now have a programme in place to make their organisations more digital.

Their chances of success will be enhanced by a CIO's expertise. 

"Chief executives need to really get a grip on long deep disciplined journeys for digital business change, and their CIOs need to help with that," Raskino told CIO UK. 

To help CEOs turn their digital ambitions into tangible outcomes, Raskino advises CIOs to set and track success metrics for their initiatives.

CIOs can also play a big role in cultural transformation. Those CEOs that have a digital initiative underway were also more likely to believe that a significant or feel cultural change would be needed by 2020.

"The most important types of cultural change that CEOs intend to make include making the culture more proactive, collaborative, innovative, empowered and customer-centric," said Raskino. They also highly rate a move to a more digital and tech-centric culture."

Improving communication

Effective communication is crucial to create an effective partnership between a CIO and CEO. The best way for a CIO to achieve this is through emphasising the impact of technology on the business rather than the technology itself.

"For a CIO to gain credibility with the CEO and board, they need to talk in terms of business outcomes," says Radius Payment Solutions CIO Dave Roberts.

"Technology is an enabler to drive greater efficiency, product diversification and increasing speed to market. The CIO is not just a trusted business partner and technology advisor but also a driver of innovation and thought leadership across the C-suite."

They can build on the relationship by inviting CIOs to IT meetings. With luck, the offer will be reciprocated and they will eventually be invited to leadership meetings.

Getting into the boardroom adds extra influence. Harvey Nichols Group Technology and Innovation Director Fatima Zada uses her position on the board to add digital expertise to the company's strategy.

"I have to constantly provide input on digital and technology in terms of education as this is not a one-time approach but a constant discussion point that needs to be assessed strategically and tactically, especially as the business changes," she says.

Adding input to the business

CIOs should focus on the business when they develop their skills and experience. This will help them handle business needs beyond the IT function and align technology with the wider organisation.

IT runs through every aspect of the organisation and is one of the biggest expenses, which means CIOs and CEOs both need to understand each other's worlds.

"Many CEOs have no reference point for what a strategic, transformational, business-focused CIO looks like," Gartner research director Ian Cox explained at the 2017 CIO 100. "Hence in their experience, CIOs still tend to be quite technically focused with little to the wider business beyond technology.

"So, while technology is growing in importance, CEOs need to limit their number of direct reports and they need to spend time with people that add value and, provide insights that are relevant to them. And many still do not see their CIO as someone that can offer this contribution."

CIOs therefore need to prove that they can provide the business value that a CEO requires.

The quickest way to do this is by becoming part of the team that makes strategic decisions.

"You can't influence the direction of the business if you are not even in the room when decisions are being made," says Cox. "Being part of the exec leadership team means that CIOs are part of the discussion and the decision-making process. Ideally, the CIO would be part of the exec leadership and report to the CEO. Most seem to have cracked the former, they now need to address their reporting line."