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What does a Chief Information Officer (CIO) do?

Last updated on March 5th, 2019

What is a Chief Information Officer (CIO)?

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 is responsible for overseeing the corporate IT strategy and determining 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 used interchangeably with ‘IT Director’. However, rather confusingly, IT Director is also a separate role. If a company has both a CIO and IT Director, the IT Director will likely focus on the day-to-day IT operations and report to the CIO, who focuses on the long-term strategy and major IT projects.

What does a CIO 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 evaluate how AI, blockchain or the Internet of the Things (IoT) could be utilised. Looking for a possible competitive advantage and/or financial gain, in terms of a return on investment for the business.

A good CIO will be able to see past the hype of new technologies and take a level-headed approach when determining a business case. Therefore, they need an understanding of business as well as technical IT knowledge. Otherwise, the novelty of new technology might get them carried away rather than the actual business value.

2. Manages the IT strategy

The CIO is also responsible for the creation of a business’ IT strategy which involves infrastructure refreshes, upgrades to hardware based on projected growth and what new systems will be integrated 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 overall 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 will be responsible for the implementation strategy, sign off the decided solution and be ultimately accountable for the actual implementation.

If the project was selecting a new line of business application, for example, the CIO’s knowledge and experience of technology, operations and their 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 exceptionally difficult for a growing business. Since a full-time CIO’s salary can be anywhere from £70,000 to over £240,000, procuring the funds or providing the right environment to attract and retain a candidate with the required knowledge of both IT and business, plus several proven years of experience in similar sectors, can be challenging.

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 poor culture fit. This saves the hassle of beginning a CIO search again and eliminates resulting HR issues.
  • You can hire individual CIOs from multiple providers for specialist projects, so you do not have to rely on a single individual in-house having every skill required for every project you want to undertake.
  • An outsourcing provider offering a CIO Service often has multiple 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. However, since the CIO role is strategic and not typically required at the drop of a hat it’s unlikely to have a significant impact.

For a growing business, the benefits of outsourcing the CIO function can heavily 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.

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