CIOs in charge? How boardroom dynamics are changing

IT heads are gaining power, but are they lacking the influence to deliver digital initiatives?
10 July 2019

The CIO is gaining power in the boardroom. Source: Shutterstock

The demands of today’s customer expectations are having a knock-on effect on c-suite dynamics. 

While the CEO, or even CMO, would once drive key business decisions based on customer insight, the CIO is becoming the key decision-maker as companies face urgency to ‘go digital’ both in-house and in their offerings to customers. 

That’s according to a survey of more than 550 C-suite leaders in technology and finance across more than 12 countries by Apptio, in partnership with Financial Times Focus

The critical role of the CIO

The report found that the push for digital transformation and the “changing economics of IT” has placed the CIO as the executive most effective at driving organizational change. The position now serves a “critical role” in preparing the organization for sustained growth.

“Technology leaders are more emboldened to drive organizational change: their priorities are shifting as they take a more agile approach to IT strategy,” said Sean Kearns, Editorial Director for FT Focus. CIOs have an enormous opportunity to plot the course of business growth, but doing so involves achieving alignment with other departments and influence over the boardroom. 

Of the organizations undergoing digital transformation in the study, 56 percent claimed to take an ‘agile’ approach based on constant learning from the business and customers. 

Changing boardroom dynamics

When it comes to developing products and services, more than two-thirds of global respondents (68 percent) agreed that digital transformation had strengthened collaboration across the C-suite. 

But it’s also leading to blurred responsibilities, and not all leaders are aligned on business priorities or technology strategy. 

As a result, potential rifts are appearing, and none more so than between the IT and finance department. The survey showed that CIOs and CFOs were least likely to be on the same page regarding key business decisions. 

CIOs might be gaining more power within the organization, the report said, but they are lacking the communication skills needed to influence their business (and secure buy-in) to deliver the change it requires. 

Quelling concerns across the company

This also comprises educating departments about the benefits of new digital initiatives and ensuring they are transparent about complexities and potential risks. 

At present, companies are unsettled about how technology decisions are made and evaluated. 

Cloud adoption is crucial, but concerns over governance pose challenges for adoption and migration, so just 30 percent of leaders feel confident in IT’s ability to govern cloud computing across the business. 

At the same time, agile approaches help to accelerate the adoption of new technology, but greater clarity is needed on tracking performance— less than one-fifth (16 percent) of companies have a framework to map success across the business. 

So, while CIOs might be in a position of power, their success will depend on them developing the right blend of technical, business and influencing skills if they’re to use it.