Challenges around culture and people are the leading priorities for CIOs, Gartner acknowledged in its 2018 CIO Agenda as it recommended to CIOs "fire yourself as an IT leader and hire yourself as a digital business executive". [See also - Digital transformation the career-defining issue for CEOs]

Discussing their latest research at the 2017 Gartner Symposium in Barcelona, analyst Andy Rowsell-Jones said that CIO budgets were up up 3.2% in the EMEA region, and that the CIO role was transforming at a faster rate than it had previously from IT service delivery to business leadership.

Gartner analysts expressed how their new focus on people and the cultural side of digital transformation was related to its $2.6 billion acquisition of fellow insight and advisory services company CEB earlier this year, although a panel of CIOs in Barcelona said that people and culture had always been among their biggest priorities and challenges.

In the 2018 CIO Agenda: Mastering the New Job of the CIO, Rowsell-Jones said that CIOs needed pre-empt disruption and get out of the habit of "running old business models which we are still applying digital to".

Security and digital

Cyber security was also a major concern for boards, Rowsell-Jones said, with CIOs expected to be trusted with increased budgets to tackle the dual threats of security and digital disruption.

"Preparing for the new technology onslaught is all for nought if you can't address cyber security," Rowsell-Jones said.

However, Gartner said that organisational culture was the biggest barrier to change. While many CIOs are experimenting with innovation and change initiatives, they have not been able to build on successful pilot projects.

"The problem is with scaling," Rowsell-Jones said. "CIOs can make things work on a small scale, but doing it at scale consistently is a very different proposition."

2017 CIO 100 leader Richard Corbridge, who will soon take up a new post as Chief Digital and Information Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, was part of a panel discussing Gartner's research. He said that in his new healthcare role we would "run IT in the traditional sense of the term", but also lead business transformation and change to make sure the organisation follows through on its strategy - and he agreed that scaling digital projects had been a challenge in his job as CIO at Ireland's Health Service Executive.

"Moving digital to scale has been really difficult in Ireland; the fear factor became a bit of a blocker to scaling at speed," Corbridge said.

Digital at scale

However, as long as CIOs have the right levels of proximity to the highest levels of an organisation they are in a good position to secure they backing they need.

"The chief part is one of the most important parts of the role," he said. "Having a seat at board level is hugely important to be able to drive the agenda forwards."

Corbridge's replacement as CIO at the Irish health service is Jane Carolan who has a background in business services in strategy.

"We won't be able to address those chronic healthcare challenges without digital and without leadership," she said of the nature of the CIO role and her organisation.

Anna Eriksson, CIO at Sweden's land registry Lantmäteriet, agreed that kicking on from successful digital pilots had been a struggle for the organisation, as reported in the Gartner research.

"It's been difficult to get from initiating to scaling, and the barrier is culture," she said.

"People are always afraid of change. You have to start at home so I started within the IT department. The mistake was to make some of the changes too quickly; there was too much conflict. To embrace digital, you need to make people know it is OK to make mistakes."

CIO and HR

Gartner analysts Tina Nunno and Don Scheibenreif said that Gartner had not previously focused on culture, talent and people, something which had changed following the CEB acquisition.

"The CEB acquisition gives us access to a wide range of talent-related data and insight," Nunno said. "The partnership between the CIO and head of HR is new territory for us and something we are very excited about.

"We have always believed in the criticality of CIOs in the enterprise. CIOs are not going anywhere anytime soon."