New kid on the block: What goes into a first-time CIO role
Luxury and anxiety accompany someone in a newly minted role with the goal of setting the technology agenda.
Something else happens when a company decides to promote its leader of technology to chief information officer for the first time. That move sends a message throughout the company as it also elevates the authority of technology.
New CIOs have the luxury of being able to set the agenda and the anxiety that comes with wanting to nail it.
CIOs are essentially technology agenda curators and without the guidance of a chief technologist or access to the rest of the C-suite, innovation can suffer, which threatens competitive relevance.
"The role of the CIO is changing now as a result of the complete change toward digital technology — to either become a deep business and strategy partner, or to be replaced by someone who can be that person," Steve Hall, partner and president at ISG, told CIO Dive. "So while the role has had an executive suite title for decades, the deep integration into the business is a relatively newer requirement."
Technology is the gateway for effective competition in any industry. In February, Shake Shack named Dave Harris its first CIO. The burger and shake chain also added chief development officer, chief global licensing officer and chief marketing officer.
Harris will work closely with the new CMO Jay Livingston for customer-facing technologies. The move comes after Shake Shack experienced customer pushback following a 2017 experiment with cashierless kiosks. The pilot was scrapped after six months.
The intersection between Shake Shack's CIO and CMO roles speaks to the larger narrative of customizing the customer experience through digital channels while using expertise across business lines.
"We continue to invest in tech, remain focused on digital innovation and are building the foundational infrastructure as a platform for growth," according to a Shake Shack spokesperson in an email to CIO Dive.
Other companies across many industries introduced a tech head to its company's C-suite in the last seven months.
Wells Fargo filled its first head of technology role in January, after announcing the position last fall that oversees the CTO and CISO. Though Wells Fargo bucked the CIO title, the role will focus on digital transformation efforts, including increased digital account acquisition, expanding distribution, and personalizing advice for customers at scale.
Online grocer Instacart hired its first CTO in September, tasked with doubling the company's engineering team. The delivery service announced a $40 million project for an Atlanta support center which will house the company's data analysis, process improvement and management needs.
Synergy among leadership is vital for streamlining business strategy. But CIOs have to work with other business chiefs to shepherd ideas toward innovation, modernization and keeping the lights on.
Sometimes the introduction of the CIO role is just an elevation and internal promotion of an existing IT leader with a vice president or manager title.
"Promoting from within carries an advantage as existing company knowledge can speed impact," Shawn Rogers, senior director of analytic strategy at TIBCO, told CIO Dive. But having an opposing view "outside your corporate echo chamber will have slightly slower time to value but more than likely greater impact and innovative disruption."
The complexities of technology have followed the CIO role since inception or the last 30 or so years.
"The challenge many technology leaders have had over time is that they presented themselves as technologists," said Hall. Because of this, tech leaders were often viewed "by the enterprise as the technology people, not part of the business but a necessary and expensive evil."
The "no" side of CIOs sometimes means choosing maintenance over novelty and compliance over new applications.
The IT budget is an "easy target" for "cost management exercises," said Hall, which often makes the CIO the "no" person of an organization. "This reputation dies hard" yet the number of companies that can survive without digital investments is dwindling, if not gone.
The "no" side of CIOs sometimes means choosing maintenance over novelty and compliance over new applications. But the companies struggling to innovate tend to struggle with empowering the right individuals who can unlock the right strategies.
"Failure to empower your CIO is at your peril," said Rogers. Most nontechnical leaders agree technology is at the root of longevity but "the question is, does the technology leader have the credibility in the organization to lead this effort," Khalid Kark, CIO research director at Deloitte Consulting, told CIO Dive.
Innovative change also depends on the state of a company's technical environment. The bulk of the $2.6 trillion spend on global technology purchases is dedicated to back office support systems, including core software, risk management and departmental systems for HR or finance.
CIOs are the ones that have to modernize the core or legacy systems of a company before deploying new tools and technologies. Insufficient funds, talent and time lead a lot of CIOs to leverage ecosystem partnerships and cloud providers to free up labor while supporting new solutions.
"The CIO is still ultimately accountable for delivering this work, but not all of this work needs to be done in-house and it certainly does not mean that CIOs head back to just managing the back office," said Kark.
Best of both worlds
Adding the CIO title to the C-suite indicates new authority with the ability to make change. It also cuts out middle men in terms of communicating strategy.
"The new CIO has only a few months to make an impact," said Hall, and "a one-time opportunity to set the leadership perception of their role and the reach of their span of control."
"When CIOs don't step up or have too much on their plate, organizations look for other leaders to fill that void, therefore we see the emergence of roles such as chief digital officer, chief data officer."
CIO research director at Deloitte Consulting
And yet, even the emergence of a new title and authority doesn't guarantee an enlarged budget. It might even mean leveraging an overlap of skills.
One of the most talked about roles of 2018 was the chief digital officer and the cross-pollination between CDO and CIO is undeniable; so much so, Barnes & Noble promoted its former CIO to CDO last year.
"Some companies are augmenting their approach by bifurcating the responsibilities of the CIO and newer titles such as chief data officer or chief analytics officer," said Rogers. "CIOs will remain a critical component of success, in some organizations CDO/CAO roles will report into the CIO function, in others they report directly to the CEO."
Grocer Kroger is taking the similarities of CIO and CDO further. In January, the tech-savvy grocery chain announced the consolidation of the CIO and CDO roles after its former CIO announced his retirement, effective May 1.
The combination of the roles will bring current CDO Yael Cosset to Kroger Technology in addition to the Kroger Digital portfolio. Cosset originally entered the CDO role with years of CIO experience.
Alternatively, "when CIOs don't step up or have too much on their plate, organizations look for other leaders to fill that void, therefore we see the emergence of roles such as chief digital officer, chief data officer," said Kark.
Follow Samantha Ann Schwartz on Twitter