What does a Chief Information Officer (CIO) do?

/ Digital Transformation
December 6th, 2020

IT strategy - What does a CIO do to help your business?

What is a Chief Information Officer?

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is usually the most senior member of a company’s IT team. The CIO handles the corporate IT strategy and determines areas for improvement in IT systems and processes.

Whilst in most cases the CIO reports to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). It’s also common for a CIO to report to the Chief Finance Officer (CFO) or Chief Operating Officer (COO) instead.

The title of CIO is often interchanged with ‘IT Director’. Unfortunately, IT Director is also the name of a separate role. If a company has both a CIO and IT Director, the IT Director likely focuses on the day-to-day IT operations and reports to the CIO, who focuses on the long-term strategy and major IT projects.

What does a Chief Information Officer do?

1. Evaluates new technology

A CIO’s main responsibility is to be aware of emerging technologies and determining how (or if) they can be of benefit to the business. For example, a CIO might look at how to utilise AI, blockchain or the Internet of Things (IoT). Looking for a possible competitive advantage and/or financial benefit it could deliver for the business.

A good CIO can see past the hype of new technologies and takes a level-headed approach when determining a business case. This makes an understanding of business, as well as technical IT knowledge, necessary.

2. Manages the IT strategy

The CIO is also responsible for the creation of a business’s IT strategy. This includes infrastructure refreshes, upgrades to hardware and integrating new systems into the business’ operations. The mark of a good CIO in this area is their ability to align the IT strategy with the wider business strategy.

Thanks to being in regular contact with the CEO, the CIO will be able to communicate the needs of the IT department to the C-suite and the needs of the wider business back to the IT teams. This enables both the business and IT strategy to work in unison, rather than against each other.

3. Oversees IT projects

When the business is undertaking a major IT project, it’s usually the CIO who manages the implementation strategy. They’re also often the one who signs off the decided solution and who is accountable for the actual implementation.

For example, if the project was selecting a new line of business application, the CIO’s knowledge and their experience of technology, operations and commercial understanding are important to get the right business-enhancing solution.

How can I get a CIO?

The process of hiring a CIO can be a daunting prospect for any business, but it’s also difficult for a growing business. Since a full-time CIO’s salary ranges from £70,000 to over £240,000, procuring the funds or providing the right environment to attract and keep a candidate with the required knowledge of both IT and business plus several proven years of experience in similar sectors can be challenging.

The advantages of an outsourced CIO

For businesses in this situation, an alternative is to outsource the CIO function. This approach has a few notable advantages over hiring an in-house CIO.

  • It’s less expensive as you usually only pay for the time when you use their services, rather than a salary.
  • It can be easier and much less expensive to switch who fulfils the CIO function when you outsource. It’s also usually possible to switch to another CIO Service without changing your outsourcing provider if the problems were a result of a poor culture fit. This saves the hassle of beginning a CIO search again and eliminates resulting HR issues.
  • You can hire individual CIOs from many providers for specialist projects. Allowing you to not rely on a single individual having every skill required for every project you want to undertake.
  • An outsourcing provider offering a CIO Service often has many CIOs who can work together or combine their knowledge to provide you with a solution. Essentially giving you the expertise of multiple CIOs for the price of one.

There are some disadvantages to consider, such as only having part-time availability. But, since the CIO role is strategic, they’re not typically required at the drop of a hat. So it’s unlikely to have a significant impact.

For a growing business, the benefits of outsourcing the CIO function far outweigh the negatives. It’s an effective way of gaining an expert to assist with the IT side of the business, without the traditional costs and HR headaches.