How the “CIO cycle” endangers digital transformation

How the “CIO cycle” endangers digital transformation


The role of the CIO is changing dramatically, and expectations have never been greater. What was once central to the job — namely operating IT — has made way for the pursuit of digital transformation. Today employees expect a first-class digital experience where the technology just “works,” and it is largely down to the CIO to deliver this.

Granted, new technologies such as cloud and the IoT have evolved at lightning pace, and CIOs have never had a better opportunity to bring value and enhanced productivity to their business. Yet in most organisations, there remains a huge gap between the rhetoric of digital transformation and the reality of what is possible. To survive, CIOs must navigate their way through all these complexities, and as our latest piece of Citrix research shows, this is often with the odds stacked sharply against them.

Challenges to Digital Transformation

Wanting to understand the challenges facing the CIO more deeply, we recently surveyed 400 CIOs in organisations across the United Kingdom. Above all, the findings expose a notable lack of confidence and optimism for the role, with just 42 percent of responding CIOs saying they felt they were able to “fulfil their visions” in their last job role, and 53 percent believing they only achieved “some” of their goals.

While on the one hand, CIOs are expected to spearhead digital transformation, on the other, 76 percent of CIOs say their organisation continues to view IT as a cost centre, and 73 percent argue the IT infrastructure they inherited has made the job of evolving the organisation into a digitally led business extremely difficult. A mere 6 percent describe their digital technology as agile and inherent to the business.

Furthermore, the study shows the CIO role has become more political than ever, which is proving a significant stumbling block. Almost a quarter (24 percent) claim internal politics and “sacred cows,” meaning ideas or ways of working which are seemingly immune to criticism, are the biggest obstacles holding them back from achieving their objectives. How the CIO role is perceived and supported internally is another problem, and 22 percent of respondents say they face tight budgetary restraints, while a further 22 percent bemoan the expectation from the C-suite to deliver an immediate return on investment from projects.

Our research exposes a relatively short life expectancy for the CIO role as a result. Half of CIOs say they spent less than five years in their last role, and 48 percent expect to spend less than five years in their current post, with 16 percent anticipating they will last less than three years. This is resulting in a “CIO cycle,” which presents a significant challenge to digital transformation since organisations need continuity to see through such large-scale projects, with all the cultural and behaviour shifts that are needed alongside the technical piece.

Patience, Support, Autonomy Critical for CIOs

One step by many has been to tackle digital transformation by appointing someone dedicated to the role rather than leaving it to IT. Our research reveals that 60 percent of those surveyed have hired a chief digital officer (DCO) to give digital the attention and profile it needs. However, this is a contentious view, and 44 percent of CIOs believe the CDO position will be redundant within five years, with a further 11 percent claiming the role isn’t needed at all right now.

For things to change, more than half (52 percent) of CIOs suggest leaders should approach conversations involving ROI in terms of what more can be done, not how much can be saved, with 45 percent also calling for the board to foster a bigger appetite for risk. Moving forward CIOs need patience, backing, and autonomy from the board so that they feel motivated to remain in their role for longer and turn their vision into a reality. Given the importance of technology and IT in digital transformation, I feel certain the CIO role will become ever more critical in 2019, and it is important we understand and support it properly.


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