The Role of the CIO

by | Mar 6

11 min read

A chief information officer (CIO) is the executive-level person at a company who manages its information technology (IT) systems and other forms of internal infrastructure. Although some people believe a CIO and a chief technology officer (CTO) is one and the same thing, the roles actually differ quite radically.

The main difference between the two is that a CIO is tasked with improving a firm’s internal processes; whereas a CTO focuses on bettering the orgnisation’s customer-facing products i.e. he or she acts with an external focus.

Is this the job right for you?
If this were the role you had been hired to do, your responsibilities would include:

• Managing the strategy behind your organisation’s IT operations;
• Checking out new systems that may be able to improve your internal infrastructure;
• Building relationships with key vendors and suppliers so that the best-in-class technological solutions are seamlessly brought to your attention;
• Keeping the bottom line in mind at all times, as you set about implementing sound solutions to your firm’s technological requirements and challenges.

In brief, this senior position will demand that you put in place the technological systems and products that are able to streamline your company’s internal business dealings. As you set about automating complex tasks, and helping internal departments to communicate with each other with increasing speed and accuracy, so the efficiency and productivity of your operations will become evident.

Moving up the CIO ladder
The general consensus among human resource (HR) managers and executive placement firms is that a big, listed company will seek out a poised and professional individual with at least 15 years of relevant IT-related experience for this position; not to mention an MBA with a tech focus on their curriculum vitae or resumé.

While a smaller start-up or less high-profile company may be happy with fewer years of experience and less academic prowess, in general the CIO position should be manned by a high-powered executive for whom IT and technological systems make simple, yet logical, sense.

Academics and experience at a glance
Ideally, kick off this career path with a bachelor’s degree, and a fourth year honours if possible, in software engineering, technological systems or computer science. Next, set about gaining extensive experience across varied computer systems, for at least a period of eight years. Note: A couple of these years should be completed in a senior or executive-level role.

Further, be sure to keep reading up, completing short courses, and remaining current on the types of systems that could give you, and the company your work for, the best possible standing in a competitive marketplace. Just keep in mind, at all times, that no company department should be favoured – all of these need to work systematically to bring any important strategic goals into being. Again, your job as CIO will be to facilitate the process, across all company departments – from sales, finance and admin, to HR, for example.

Your highest-level concerns
As the top-most person on your internal technology team, you’ll be required – in the role of CIO – to take responsibility for the way the systems you implement could affect the financial success of your company.

The CIO job, like most C-suite positions, requires that you:
• Manage the relevant department (in this case IT);
• Collaborate with everyone else on the executive board to ensure that the tech you are implementing works well with the company’s overall vision;
• Play your part in making the entire business a success, as a result of the systems, policies and strategies you choose to highlight and work towards.

Best books for your bedside table
What should a CIO be brushing up on when it comes to their holiday, weekend or evening reading? The experts at suggest the five books listed below, among others:

• Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson’s Radically Human: How New Technology Is Transforming Business And Shaping Our Future (HBR Press);
• John Baird and Edward Sullivan’s Leading with Heart: Five Conversations That Unlock Creativity, Passion and Purpose (Amazon);
• Isaac Sacolick’s Digital Trailblazer: Essential Lessons To Jumpstart Transformation And Accelerate Your Technology Leadership (also Amazon);
• Elisabeth B.reynolds, David A. Mindell, and David Autor’s Building Better Jobs In an Age Of Intelligent Machines (MIT Press);
• Dr Victoria M Grady and Patrick McCreesh Phd’s Stuck: How to Win At Work By Understanding Loss (Amazon).

Infrastructure as a service: points to consider
During your work in a CIO job, you will become adept at analysing the ways in which the technology you are using, or are considering putting in place, will put you ahead of any competitors in the marketplace. You may begin with a building phase and, even when the platform is running smoothly, continue to investigate methods to drive growth and increase revenue that make themselves known via the data available to you.

An article from Datacentrix explains that the ‘as-a-service’ model – a cloud-based on-demand resource, usually delivered on a consumption basis – can remove significant barriers to achieving agility, scalability, simplicity and cost savings. CIOs should therefore conside the four important points bulleted below, before adopting this approach for their organisation

• Will your business objectives and challenges be met via this this kind of investment?
• Is it clear which vendor or supplier, among those wooing you, will be able to meet your unique business requirements in a cost effective manner?
• Has your vendor or supplier explained the way in which this investment will align with your future IT roadmap?
• Would it be preferable to take a hybrid approach so that different service providers each manage an area of your IT operations for you?

The important thing is that each professional service provider with whom you work should be able to integrate their ‘as-a-service’ offering into your existing platform – as and when your business requires them to do so. A truly valuable ICT service provider doesn’t simply take their paycheck and run for the hills; in fact, they stick around and support their clients on the journey from early days to complete digital transformation, in such a way that key business objectives are skillfully met.

Forging best-in-class vendor partnerships
There is mutual gain to be made from a CIO-tech vendor relationship, with the key to achieving this relying on the three principles we have shared via, below:

• Base the partnership on mutual respect. Caroline Faulkner of Pramerica Systems Ireland believes this approach involves tracking not only how much value your vendors are offering you, but also how helpful you are being in facilitating the work you are paying them for. It really is a two-way street.
• Seek strategic alignment. Elavon CIO Thomas Philips suggests that when you forge a close and mutually beneficial relationship with a vendor, much of the admin involved in managing their work dissipates. While it takes time to build such a bond and establish that level of understanding between brands, once in place it can be strategic for both of you – such as leading to the identification of new opportunities within the marketplace, from which you could both stand to gain in the near future.
• Think long term. A third CIO insight comes from Eric J Brown of NCI Building, when he says that the best possible arrangement involves fitting together well, like a puzzle, from day one. Within such a business partnership, your vendor will be bringing new opportunities to light, emphasising the need for software and licencing updates, and even offering you cost-effective ways to proceed with projects – without your having to ask them for this information. While such a partnership is rare, if this is the level of understanding of your business that you are experiencing from a vendor – hold on to them for dear life!

Software Under Your Radar
The realm of IT management software is extensive, as it covers: service and infrastructure management, application performance management, security information and event management, and more besides. In essence, each supplier or vendor has their own unique approach – this is due to some entering the niche via security, others via application performance, and still more via help desk apps that are striving to connect remotely into such user end-systems.

No matter their origin, all these systems have grown and spread into the wider world of IT management. Top picks, according to CIO Insight, can be found below:

• TeamViewer
• ReadyWorks
• NewRelic
• Splunk
• ScienceLogic.

CIOs in the news
When scanning’s list of the top technology leaders in the world, these five individuals stand out from the crowd:

• Ben Fried, CIO of Google. Ben has led the world’s most cutting-edge tech company through 15 years of transformative digital strategy;
• Stephen Schmidt, vice president and CISO of Amazon. In this role, where the “s” in the title stands for Security, Stephen continues to lead the Amazon team through the likes of product design, IT management, and all of their engineering-development efforts;
• Arthur Hu, senior vice president and CIO of Lenovo. Arthur has a track record of building high-performance teams by taking a keen interest in their development; and mentoring his ITC staff members, where possible. His global experience, gained from companies such as McKinsey and Company, is standing Lenovo in really good stead;
• Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and CIO of Adobe. With more than 25 years of relevant experience under her belt, Cynthia is responsible for delivering quality services and operations for Adobe – all while overseeing her global IT and cloud operations teams;
• Kathryn Wilder Guarini, CIO at IBM. Within this executive-level tech role, Kathryn has been outspoken about overcoming challenges and delivering value – leading to her contribution to IBM’s hybrid cloud and enterprise AI offering, being recognised with numerous industry awards. She blogs at


Importance of remaining current
Each year Gartner, a major technological research and consulting firm based in Stamford, Connecticut, hosts its Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in at least four international cities. If remaining up to speed with industry trends is a challenge you are facing, this conference will allow you to network and exchange information with other CIOs on your level; as well as to participate in interactive and highly collaborative round table discussions, share your own experiences via speaking opportunities, and access new tools that are aimed at supporting your key business missions.

According to the organisers, key topics for your attention generally include: managing risk, accelerating digital transformation, addressing leadership concerns, understanding composable technology, looking at the evolution of the CIO role, and tackling your career path with agility. Those who have previously attended, on then other hand, reveal that this event “validates your thinking and direction, prepares you for changes and disruptors, … and challenges you to push yourself and your team to the next level”.

View the full calendar of upcoming Gartner conferences, here.

Fast fact 1: A CIO’s daily activities in brief
• Maintains internal processes, so that they flow smoothly;
• Heads up the IT and infrastructure departments;
• Keeps a keen eye on productivity and profitability;
• Assists all staff members with tech-related glitches; and
• Mentors junior-to-mid-level employees who are also tech minded and/or tech gifted.

Fast fact 2: Critical skills for a CIO to hone
• Cutting-edge business acumen;
• Diplomatic relationship building;
• Exceptional IT knowledge;
• Ability to handle tough situations, including tech and business crises and times of rapid change; and
• Such a keen and comprehensive understanding of your subject matter, that you can easily explain tricky tech-related subject matter in layman’s terms (say, to a non-tech proficient staff member or an individual whom you are mentoring).

Fast fact 3: CIO salary comparison
• In South Africa: R1 473 775 per annum

• Internationally: US$146 907 (R2 665 274,94) per annum

Fast fact 4: Most popular enterprise software solutions
Did you know that the enterprise software market, which fulfills the requirements of organisations and governments, was valued at US$506 billion in 2022? Further, this market is expected to see growth of 10.07 percent over the period 2019 to 2025. Click here
for a table showing what each of the likes of, Zendesk Sales CRM, Salesforce, HubSpot, SAP, Zoho Projects, Oracle NetSuite, Datapine and Microsoft Dynamics are best for, the platform they operate on, plus costs. Here, it will be important to work together with your company CTO – as you focus on the internal prowess of these solutions, and they focus on any external usage concerns.














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