What is a Chief Information Officer? What Is the Role of a CIO?

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: January 2, 2023

CIO’s or Chief Information Officers are one of the careers that are in highest demand within organizations today but what exactly is a CIO and what do they do? That's what we want to talk about here today.

YouTube player

The key stakeholder and the key position within most businesses that we most commonly work with is the CIO or the Chief Information Officer. Oftentimes, the CIO role might be called the Vice President of IT, it might be called the Director of IT or an IT Manager but in general, the CIO is that top dog or that leading management role within the IT function. The CIO role is something that's in high demand nowadays with the emergence of new technologies and data, business intelligence, artificial intelligence and all this different technology that's emerging and really helping change the way organizations run.

Before we jump into what the role is, let's also talk about what it's not. The CIO role, contrary to historic belief, is not just a techie role, it's not something that's focused solely on technology, which may sound unusual and counter-intuitive because the CIO is in charge of the IT department but as we're going to talk about in this article, the CIO’s today need to have a lot more than just technical skills, they need to have a pretty deep understanding of business, operations, organizations and people and politics.

IT Maintenance 

A first functional responsibility that CIO’s typically have is the whole IT maintenance function and this function is really focused on keeping the lights on. For lack of a better word, it's focused on keeping the existing systems running, it's focused on maintaining those systems, managing incoming user requests to change the technology, potentially providing incremental Improvements, ongoing updates, enhancements and upgrades to the technology that's in use.

It's also focused on fixing applications that are broken, so when there's bugs in a system or if there's some sort of problem or outage caused by an IT failure, that's a function that CIO’s typically will manage. Now, historically,  a majority of the CIO role was really focused on really just maintaining the systems as they are today, making incremental improvements to technology and really just keeping the lights on and while this is still an important function of CIO’s, it's becoming less and less important over time as the CIO role becomes more strategic,more focused on new and emerging technologies and less focused on just simply preserving what's already in place. It is still is an important role for CIO’s and a certain function that's important for CIO’s to manage within their I.T departments.

Strategic Systems

The next strategic role that CIO’s typically have and this role by the way is becoming increasingly important in recent years and that's focused on strategic systems, strategic applications and strategic use of technology in an organization. In other words, it's not focused just on keeping existing legacy systems up and running, it's focused on really taking a big leap or a bigger leap on how to leverage new technologies and how to automate processes that have never been automated within an organization before. 

Additionally, a CIO may improve how to better leverage data and business intelligence within the organization, how to go-to market and really turn outward to the technology providers to bring new competencies in-house to the organization. This focus on strategic systems is really where we start to see the CIO role evolve from an IT maintenance and an IT support role, into more of a business strategy role where we're focused on technology but now we're focusing on new and emerging technology to help enable better business processes, better business models, better customer experience and other drivers of strategic value within an organization. This is a very critical functioning and role the CIO’s typically have.

Cutting Edge Technologies

We've talked about IT maintenance, which focuses on supporting existing systems, we've talked about strategic systems, which is really focused on bringing in new technologies and new capabilities that can help enhance and improve the business but there's another bucket which is really focused on cutting edge technologies.

This is really where we're pushing the boundaries and maybe thinking further outside the box of how we can use some of the newer technologies to rethink our entire business. Now, strategic systems in general are something that is really sort of the mainstream focus of CIO’s today.

There's a third layer or an even more advanced function which is that cutting edge technology piece, where we're really focused on looking at bleeding edge technologies that we may not deploy across the board and we may not deploy all on day one but we're constantly looking at technology trends to really pick up on things that might might be high value for us or might give us a competitive differentiator in the marketplace and that's where the CIO can add a lot of value.

For example, when we think about strategic systems, often times we're thinking about ERP systems. Modern enterprise resource planning systems can automate different parts of our business and tie together data and provide all these capabilities we haven't had in the past. When we think about the cutting edge technologies, that's where we go a step further and look at things like artificial intelligence or machine learning and things that can really completely disrupt our business and really help us rethink how we run our business. That's another role that IT leaders such as CIO’s need to provide within organizations and the key here is, it's not just a matter of understanding how this new cutting edge technology works but more importantly understanding how that new cutting edge technology might enable a better business and more business Improvement business value and differentiation for the organization itself.

This is where technology meeting business is so critical and that's why CIO’s need to have such a balanced skill set that's split between IT, technical understanding, business functions and business understanding.

Business Leadership and Understanding

At the end of the day, CIO’s are business leaders, they're part of the executive c-suite, they typically report either to the CEO or to the CFO and they're very high up within the organization. It's usually the top person within the IT department and as such it's important for CIO’s to be strong business leaders that can drive technology in the context of how the business can be improved and also ensure that you can really be a leader in terms of rallying support and getting aligned on what the future direction of the business is going to be.

This is where technology is important but it's not the most important thing, being a business leader and driving that business alignment to ensure that the entire business organization is headed in the same direction and is fully on board with how technology can improve the business requires a different skill set.

It's a non-technical, intangible, high EQ sort of a skill set. That's why being a CIO is so important to have that technology, the operational and the organizational competencies and abilities to be able to tie those pieces together and so, CIO’s typically are people that can help drive and enable business change and enhancements to business models and Improvements to the bottom line within an organization.

Building Internal Competencies

The final major role that CIO’s typically tackle is to build internal competencies. At the end of the day, they're a leader of the IT department and the IT department typically needs to support the business, it needs to have the competencies required to continuously improve, to continuously innovate, to continuously enhance how the business runs and how the business can be improved. That's something that goes beyond just one person, it's not just the CIO that needs to do that, the CIO needs to groom and build a team of people within the IT department that can think that way, it's a different skill set for IT departments today to move from just a support role to more of a strategic business role that can help enable business Improvements.

CIO’s can drive alignment and focus and direction within the organization as a whole but they also need to build the IT department in a way that's going to support that innovation and that use of technology to drive business value in the future.

Hopefully this has given you a sense of how important the CIO role has become what a CIO does and to summarize, a CIO really has to wear a number of different hats, in fact, there's not many roles within an organization other than perhaps the CEO that requires such broad understanding of business technology, the organization, the operations, all different aspects of a business, it's really important that CIO’s have that deep and broad understanding.

Some of the best CIO’s I've ever worked with are the ones that have a plethora of business understanding and maybe just a little bit of technology understanding. Those types of CIO’s are typically more effective than the CIO’s that have lots of technology experience and just a little bit of business experience. I'd rather have the CIO that really knows business, really knows leadership and is a good leader themselves, who can manage politics and organizational dynamics. If they can do all that and really understand the business and what the needs are and the strategies of the organization are and then apply technology to the picture,  that's a pretty powerful combination.

If you're looking to be a CIO, I'd really encourage you to think about ways that you can round out your skill set to cover all of these different areas we've talked about and if you're interested in learning more about a key function or a key work stream that CIO’s are often focused on, which is digital transformation, I encourage you to download a digital transformation report which is an annual report we publish each year that covers a number of best practices and lessons learned as well as software reviews and rankings of different types of Technologies in the marketplace.

YouTube player

If you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, we would love to give you some insights. Please contact me for more information eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

Kimberling Eric Blue Backgroundv2
Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
Subscribe for updates
We never share data. We respect your privacy
Stratosphere 2024
Register Here
Additional Blog Categories



International Office Locations

Follow us on:

Third Stage Consulting

Third Stage Consulting Group is a global thought leader in business transformation, ERP software systems, operational change management, and business advisory. Let us take your organization’s digital transformation to the Third Stage.
2022 - Copyright Third Stage Consulting Group LLC  |  All Rights Reserved  |  Website developed and maintained by Denver Web Design.
Privacy Notice  |  Terms of Use  |  Sitemap