Digital Business

Want to be a ‘contemporary’ CIO? Here are the traits you need

Jun 13, 2024
Contemporary CIO traits

If you are or were a chief information officer, would you consider yourself “conventional” or “contemporary?” Or some blend of the two?

Recent news from Deloitte revealed findings from a survey of U.S. technology leaders about priorities, performance, and qualities the top IT role needs to address today's most pressing business issues. 

Among the takeaways from Deloitte’s CIO Program study:

  • Nearly half responded that shaping, aligning, and delivering a unified tech strategy and vision is the biggest priority for CIOs surveyed this year 
  • About two-thirds said they report directly to the CEO
  • Only a third rank their organizations as leading in talent management, optimizing IT strategy, and sustainable IT
  • Respondents indicated that CIOs need to exhibit a range of tech and business traits, including enabling transformation and innovation (59%), delivering topline value (57%), and serving as change agents (54%)

Considering what CEOs need from their CIOs, the takeaways underscore the growing importance of technology leaders in organizations and room for improvement. The majority of CEOs (57%), according to a separate CEO survey, “plan to embed new technologies in their business model to find opportunities for growth, further validating that this is the golden era of the CIO.”

CIOs: Change leaders in the digital arena

A golden era it is. The CIO of the post-pandemic, hybrid work world has more power and influence in the C-suite than ever before. With that comes new responsibilities. Alongside knowing enterprise IT operations and budgets inside and out, they’re now regarded as business and people leaders who can talk about the state of the business and markets they compete in, much like CEOs. In the same breath, they can weigh in on the merits of a “blue ocean” strategy, for instance, and define the technical infrastructure that would support the actualization of one.

Deloitte’s research reveals a dichotomy among CIOs. Half of survey respondents identified themselves and others as running IT in a conventional manner, while the other half saw themselves as reinventing the CIO role in a more contemporary way. This split suggests that maintaining traditional, IT-centric qualities are still as important as the strategic and more customer-focused ones.

CIO survey - Deloitte 2024


Technology is the backbone of modern business, and conventional CIO responsibilities didn’t disappear. CIOs may not be consolidating data centers or migrating ERP and CRM to the cloud anymore. Still, top priorities like data (we used to say “big data,” but all data is now big), AI, cybersecurity, and emerging tech are evolving concerns that require technical expertise. Thankfully, CISOs, CTOs, CDOs, and other specialized CXOs have stepped in to help.

Contemporary peer widsom

CIOs who are CXO REvolutionaries embody traits from both sides, but the contemporary camp can accelerate growth and impact. What follows are the characteristics of the "Contemporary CIOs" from Deloitte's research and a piece of advice or wisdom from our community knowledge base. Use it to help inspire and refine your business relationship management, collaboration, and overall executive influence among the C-suite and board of directors.

Change agent

The role of IT professional is not only about the knowledge of the technology, that's just one piece, how it fits in a bigger set of business processes, customer experiences, and how do we run the change management of the people who are there to serve our customers, to leverage the right technology to be able to deliver that value.” 

- Rashmi Kumar, CIO, Medtronic  

How to be a change champion: Strategies for CIOs transforming the tech landscape


An expert in working directly with clients

“I've been lucky enough to be customer zero multiple times in my career. And when we were talking about “customer zero,” we had touched on this, we've got to create confidence in our own services. We've got to create confidence in our own platform and our own solutions. And there's nothing better than employing them within your own organization. It truly signals the walk, the talk.” 

- Praniti Lahkwara, CIO, Zscaler 

Threading the needle between security and enablement with Zscaler CIO Praniti Lakhwara


Takes risks

“Don’t ever give up on your vision. I recalled at a former company having to explain in three separate board meetings the need to move to the cloud. Eventually the rationale behind my recommendation was understood, and we accomplished our goal. It’s worth fighting for what you believe in—and there’s no better proof of the value of your ideas than success.” 

- Hanna Hennig, CIO, Siemens 

How Siemens AG is accelerating transformation by combining the real world with the digital world


Enables transformation & innovation

“Whatever form innovation takes, you can be certain the CIO/CTO team will be expected to facilitate and support it. When facing such a varied array of possible drivers, it’s helpful to frame innovation in terms the IT team understands, including how it helps to grow the business. And once you’re called to execute, having laid the groundwork for success can make or break the organization’s understanding of your impact.” 

- Bruce Lee CIO & CTO (former) (Centene, Fannie Mae) 

How CXOs can prepare to support the innovation horizons that drive growth


Delivers topline value

“Imagine a CIO who has three specific ways they can reduce IT expenditures or increase productivity. Perhaps exercising options A and B will save their organization the most money. Yet, options B and C save less money while greatly improving other outcomes. The optimal decision depends heavily upon which metrics the company is trying to achieve. Understanding this larger picture is key, and it requires a continuous effort. New ownership can completely change the direction of a company, and a CIO must be ready to adapt to new metrics and goals.”  

- Amit Sinha, President, Zscaler (former) 

CIOs reveal the secrets to thriving in an evolving workplace


A business leader

“The CEO must use his or her bully pulpit to elevate IT leadership within the organization during periods of digital transformation. This shouldn’t be an email or canned corporate communication, but rather a concrete confirmation that IT sits at the “big table” among other executive leadership functions. In my example, it would have been impossible to get leadership from 25 business units together without a seat at the “big table.” This signals to the rest of the organization that the project supersedes any single unit’s agenda. Business unit leaders must see you are close to the boss.”  

- Yves Le Gelard, Group CIO and Chief Digital Officer, ENGIE (former)

Herding cats: How to lead a digital transformation in a federated organization


Influences business strategy

“It’s up to CISOs and CIOs to explain the knock-on effects of a potential breach and make a vivid case for prioritizing cybersecurity spending as essential to the health and wellbeing of the business. If there’s one area in which cybersecurity leadership is falling short in their service to top executives and board members, it is perhaps in adequately expressing these dangers.” 

- David Cagigial, CIO, State of Wisconsin (former) 

If a recession comes, cut cyber professionals at your peril


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CIOs unplugged: driving business strategy for the digital age