The Power Of Talent

From IT Manager to Digital Leader: The Evolution of the CIO

The strategic influence of the CIO has never been so strong but the CIO today has some stiff competition.

For the last 18 years, Harvey Nash has been conducting what is now the world's largest survey of IT leaders. Over the years, we have been tracking the shifting priorities of IT; we have watched "disruptive" technologies come and go; we have welcomed IT teams becoming more diverse; and we have been asking what keeps the CIO awake at night (remember BYOD?). But the most fascinating development for us over the last 8 years, since releasing the study in Germany, has been how the role of the CIO has evolved.

Pre-millennials may well remember a time when the IT Organisation was tightly tethered to the companies' back-office function. Even today, many CIOs continue to report to the Chief Financial Officer. Over the years, IT evolved to be an internal service organisation, providing a catalogue of services to their internal "clients". Today, with digitalisation disrupting whole industries and organisations struggling to reap the benefits of their digital strategies, a new breed of CIO is emerging.

The role of CIO has certainly become more complex but, then again, the world has become more complex - the Trump-Effect, Brexit, the rise of populism, terrorist attacks in the heart of European cities and ever-more sophisticated cyber attacks have led to unprecedented global political and economic uncertainty. Organisations are having to adopt more agile technology strategies in preparation for change.

So for the CIO, it's back-to-basics: ensure a stable IT. Comfort zone stuff, right? Well, not really.

Digital Transformation! It's the new goal. The opportunities it opens are endless and in many organisations, it's the CIO who is being challenged not as platform provider or indeed a service provider but as a business enabler to develop innovative new products, drive revenues and find new routes to market.

Stability and Innovation. It's a delicate balance that many organisations (particularly larger ones) recognise. Perhaps this is why "digital" is increasingly being carved-out as a wholly separate function in the organisation and, with digital as a function, we see the rise of the Chief Digital Officer.

As correctly predicted by, amongst others, Gartner, one in four organisations now has a CDO which is a significant increase from 7% just three years ago. As many CDOs have strategic influence at board level and in some cases have their own IT budget, the role is a clear challenger to the traditional technology leader as the digital owner in the organisation.

So, should the CIO be worried? We don't believe so. Technology and digital go hand-in-hand but for the CIO to become a true Digital Leader, a whole new skill-set is required. Tasked with anchoring the digital strategy in the organisation, the Digital Leader has as many cultural as technology challenges: Almost half of our survey respondents declare "overcoming resistance to change" as the biggest impediment to digital success. It would seem that building relationships has become just as important as mastery of technology.

To give an example, in our report we looked at why IT-enabled change projects fail. The principal reason is weak ownership followed by lack of technology talent, poor IT supply chain as well as poor governance. Therefore, to be an effective and successful Digital Leader, the CIO must enjoy strong credibility at executive level as well as take a more aggressive approach to engage business stakeholders.

The conclusions from the Harvey Nash / KPMG CIO Survey 2017 clearly show that the CIO is on the right track to digital leadership. Today's CIO ensures a stable IT platform, acts as an agile service provider, enables business growth, is a strategic digital advisor to the board and lobbies line management around digital transformation.

The CIO is certainly rising to this evolutionary challenge and, interestingly, this is translating into job satisfaction - a third of CIOs express the wish to stay in their current role beyond the average lifespan of five years. Evolution, after all, takes time!

About the Survey
The 2017 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey is the largest IT leadership survey in the world in terms of number of respondents. The survey of 4,498 CIOs and technology leaders was conducted between December 19, 2016 and April 3, 2017, across 86 countries.

For more information about the survey and to request a full copy of the results, please visit or contact

Mark Hayes
Harvey Nash
+49 (0) 89 839 306 12

Sophie Grimberg
Harvey Nash
+49 (0) 89 839 306 17