The Future CIO

Sunday Times Paper

Written by Roxanne Heaton, Director at Government Digital Service and Digital Leaders Advisory Board Director

The Future CIO is a business strategist, a digital, data and technology visionary, a global thought leader, a chief customer officer and a talent master. The role is to enlighten, to delight, to share and enable through influence. This individual is no longer the human interface to the back office function. Their job is to lead people through change as an enabler for growth. 

Core to this is a demand for CIOs to develop leadership capabilities across people, processes and technology – themes that will enable them to future-proof their organisations and equip them for resilience. To build that innovative stretch across their organisation, CIOs need to address the natural fear that accompanies change. This requires a range of qualities: enhanced emotional intelligence that allows them to implement timely technical decisions while also being tactful, supportive and transparent; and a marketing mindset that they can harness to ensure authentic communication and collaboration. 

In many businesses this is set against a backdrop of limited budgets and headcount, user needs which are increasingly diverse, and the challenge of ever-evolving technology and cyber posture. The future CIO must be aware of, and able to connect to, opportunities which fill gaps in the market – and do it at pace. Meeting and exceeding these user needs requires teams and networks which are representative of the market we serve: demographically representative, culturally diverse, inclusive and always listening. 

Diversity enables innovation in thinking and delivery to enable solutions that provide advantage tomorrow. Future CIOs must collectively address different approaches to attract, grow and retain talent, including those who are digitally excluded and lack the skills required for work. After a year where work/life balance has been a focus, levers for team health are increasingly important. Future CIOs are humble, authentic and receptive, open to collaboration and co-creation, across departments, traditional boundaries and sectors.  

How can this be achieved? Through thoughtful collaboration. And in the same way, we must continue both to uphold our responsibility to securely manage organisational and personal data, and also find ways to share information in order to reduce friction. These approaches will increase pace, agility and flexibility for all.

The future CIO will constantly be evaluating new technologies, threats and opportunities. These leaders will seamlessly translate this to business impact with metrics, so that the right organisational decisions can be made. Organisations that have grown over the last 12 months have delivered services and products at the right time, in the right place, using the right technology. These organisations treated CIOs as experts who are listened to: trusted to create value. 

There are no longer technology companies. Every company is a technology company. Companies that have enabled technology skills and ways of working across the wider organisation are those that will sustain progress: from agile decision-making across organisation-wide multi-disciplinary teams, rethinking governance that focuses on processes that matter and adapting investment approaches. 

Digital confidence builds on skills: the ability to use tools in a wider toolset to think and create new ideas, as well as serving users in the most personalised and relevant way. The future CIO will be central to organisations that continually step forward across all these themes. The reach of this digital confidence and motivation will spin out from an  organisation into the communities in which it operates, supporting more users to have access to and build the skills they need for life and work. 

Those who take revolutionary approaches around the themes of people, processes and technology, building and reusing common components of thinking and delivery: these people  will be the benchmark of the future CIO.


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