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CIOs are in a privileged position to become the primary ally of their CEOs as digital initiatives that provide revenue growth rise up the agenda of Chief Executives. [See also: 2017 CIO Agenda - Embracing startups and diversity to drive innovation]

That was one of the messages from Gartner following the results of their 2016 CEO Perspectives survey of around 400 chief executives.

Vice president and Gartner Fellow Mark Raskino said that as always growth is the number one priority for chief executives, followed by the customer, workforce, corporate problems and IT-related issues in fifth position. Operational improvements, along with efficiency & productivity improvements were outside of the top 10, with Raskino identifying six of the top 10 priorities as being part of the "digital business hunting ground" where CIOs could assist their CEO.

"Today's CEOs know they have to take digital right to the core of their companies," Raskino said.

"CEOs believe that being a digital business will contribute to profitability and expect digitally attributable revenue growth."

CEO priorities 2017 - CIO as the CEO digital coach

Gartner's research showed that digital had become so important and pervasive that CEOs themselves were taking the lead in driving the agenda forwards, although CIOs came second ahead of CFO, COOs, CMOs, CDOs and other business unit heads as leading digital strategy changes.

"CEOs will be captains but CIOs are expected to be copilots as leaders of the digital journey," Raskino said. "CEOs have realised changes are so substantial the digital agenda cannot be delegated away."

However, Raskino said that Gartner's research showed that CEOs acknowledge they need to improve in digital and technology areas. Worryingly however, CEOs were not necessarily looking to their CIO to help them - although this represents an opportunity for CIOs.

"CEOs are learning about digital from outside of their own industries," Raskino said. "CIOs should help CEOs deepen digital business penetration to combat the 'earnings recession'.

"CIOs should help CEOs prepare for or pre-empt digital business industry disruption. CIOs should help their CEOs personally develop and learn about the digital business world; reverse mentoring is a perfectly plausible strategy.

CEO priorities 2017 - Cybersecurity a business problem

"CIOs have the knowledge to help them perform, take your knowledge to the CEO.

"CIOs need to be educators, and see themselves as educators. In the 1980s we were running training programmes for IT because the business didn't know what it was. We have kind of lost that idea of the CIO as an educator. It should be at the core of the CIO's DNA to educate, to show the business what is possible."

Gartner VP distinguished Analyst Don Scheibenreif added: "Do you want to determine your own future or have someone do it for you? CIOs should be a catalyst for that discussion. Doing nothing is not an option."

The CEO research also found that 49% of chief executives saw cybersecurity as a technology management issue rather than a business management issue (51%), and Raskino recommended CIOs reset the default security policy and culture to making it primarily a business responsibility.

Putting the CEO coaching plan into action, Raskino said CIOs needed to proactively align themselves with the challenges of their CEO and find out the organisation's top three business priorities over the coming two years.

"Although you could argue if the CIO does not already know that you could be in a bit of trouble," he quipped.

CEO priorities - 2017 CIO as a board coach

If the CIO could find out the obstacles or 'frictions' in these areas, and offer a tech-related solution a CIO would be able to present the leader of the IT function as "showing business thought leadership", which politically could even be used to gain CEO support for other projects like a  much-needed infrastructure modernisation.

Beyond being able to coach CEOs as part of the digital journey, Raskino also said that wider influence with boards was also becoming critical and an opportuinty for CIOs to show their skills.

"CIOs need to influence the executive leadership but also influence the ownership; the idea has to go to the ownership," he said. "Boards and owners need NEDs with a tech-savvy background. And if a board doesn't understand technology, what is the likelihood they will understand disruption?"

[Read next: What is Digital? What CEOs and boards need to know about digital | Ian Cox cuts through the hype in Digital Uncovered]