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Why CIO Now Stands for ‘Chief Integration Officer’


As digitally enhanced businesses evolve, chief information officers must focus on how to connect business and technology in an ever-more effective way.

As noted by the Institute for the Future (IFTF), our world consists of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. And as digital becomes the norm rather than the exception, who on the CXO leadership team is best placed to deliver business value amid such an unpredictable environment?

In many cases it’s the CIO — but not in the conventional role of chief information officer. The CIO today plays a new and more vitally important role — that of chief integration officer. 

The CIO has traditionally sat among the leadership team, overseeing the provision of technology and information services from the perch of enterprise architect or keeping the IT plumbing working. But given the growing technological complexity of business, we believe the CIO is increasingly well positioned with the tech know-how and strategic expertise to function as the glue between digital business strategy, data and technology service delivery. 

The overarching goal of the chief integration officer, therefore, is to successfully engage users with in-the-moment insights and IT services, whether they reside inside or outside the enterprise’s four walls. 

Guiding the Digital Journey 

The Holy Grail of digital is a seamless integration of human experience, data analysis and the technology used to capture data and provide an engaging and meaningful experience. Organizations born digital have an advantage because many have built their businesses around digital technology and do not have organizational or cultural barriers stacked against them.

For the CEOs and CIOs of these companies, digital is the strategy. These organizations are powered by a generation of leaders who excel at technological exploration, as well as business cultures that are built on a fail-fast-and-learn investment ethos.  Incumbent businesses increasingly feel they are playing catch-up. 

Because these digital natives closely align business and IT strategies, traditional organizations cannot meet their objectives in a timely manner unless the two disciplines are interlocked from the get-go.  As a result, CIOs who “go it alone” in their IT purchase decisions are not likely to go far. 

Moreover, improved access to data and IT services via cloud delivery (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, etc.) and mobile technologies has created shadow IT functions, which is disrupting traditional IT business models by disintermediating processes and reconfiguring the business relationship between vendors, partners and IT organizations. (For more on this topic, please read “Being Digital: How and Why CIOs Are Reinventing Themselves for a New Age.”)

CIOs who take on the role of chief integration officer enable their CEOs to wholeheartedly commit to a digital strategy by providing deeper integration between customer engagement, business functions and technology to deliver a digital business. (Are you a digital CIO? Find out how you stack up by taking our self-assessment test.)

Transforming the Transformer

IT is increasingly integral as the source of value to the extended enterprise.  Simultaneously, new roles have emerged, including chief data officer, chief technology officer, chief innovation officer, chief customer officer, chief marketing officer, etc. All of these roles share similar business attributes and related responsibilities, influenced by advances in digital technology and thinking. 

Historically, the CIO has acted as a functional leader, too often with limited influence in strategic and transformational decision-making.  As such, traditional CIOs tend to be consumed with run-the-business IT infrastructure and architecture. Success in today’s digital age means more than merely keeping the lights on or managing the plumbing. CIOs must reimagine their role and integrate elements of all the aforementioned roles (CDO, CIO, CCO, CMO, etc.) to effectively connect the digital agenda with multiple components of a company’s business model.

The New Meaning of Integration

In the refined context of the CIO, the integration of enterprise functions and systems across geographies and business units is top of mind. Organizations, with their CIOs at the forefront, have tried (and mostly failed) for decades to achieve full integration. Today’s integration is all about opening the IT infrastructure and plugging and playing in a wider ecosystem of  suppliers, consumers,  tech start-ups, autonomous machines and even marketplace utilities (including  competitors’ systems) across specific industries and beyond.   

This means CIOs must recognize opportunities to collaborate and share IT assets and resources beyond the company’s boundaries in an open and secure way — creating the ultimate sharing economy.

The Evolving CIO Role

As businesses become more digital, and digital technologies become more integral to the business model, the CIO will move to a more central and leading role within the organization. To become a true business leader however, the CIO must adopt and effectively balance three distinct leadership roles: strategist/entrepreneur, transformation leader and service integration leader. Increasingly, these roles will be associated with seven personas/attributes that contribute to a more strategic, central and integral role for CIOs within their businesses (see Figure 1). (Get a data-driven perspective on how the CIO is evolving into a digital leader.)

Figure 1

Because each persona invokes different thinking for each role, all are important; in fact, no single persona fully equips any of the roles to be successful. Figure 2 illustrates at a high level the impact of each persona on enabling the three roles central to a digital CIO.

Figure 2

Why This Matters Across the Business

It is critical for everyone in the organization to understand the challenges, influencing factors and dynamics around the CIO’s digital shift, including members of the CIO’s leadership team, peers in the CXO suite, board members watching from above the operational hierarchy, and internal or external advisors to the organization. This shared understanding is important for the following reasons:

  • It will help expedite digital transformation, since the CIO will require external support to flourish in the new role.

  • It will make everyone’s job easier, since all teams across functional areas will be better able to interpret the CIO’s behaviors and the underlying drivers.

  • It will enable the CIO to see transformation in the context of the entire organization and its impact on functions, departments and other key roles, particularly his or her own.   

While accelerating digitization offers CIOs new business and technology challenges and opportunities, today’s technology leaders must be accepting of new roles and responsibilities if they want to contribute business value to the organization. However, the CIO is not alone in the need to embrace enterprise-wide changes unleashed by the digital revolution. Learning from the transformation of the CIO into a chief integration officer and applying that experience to a variety of roles will be hypercritical to business success across the enterprise.

This article was authored by Paul Everson, Senior Director, Strategy & Transformation, Dr. Marcin Remarczyk, Senior Manager, Strategy & Transformation, Amith Mohan, Manager, Strategy & Transformation, and Alexander Hall, Senior Consultant, Strategy & Transformation. 

For a more detailed view of how CIOs see their role changing, please read “The Complete Digital CIO,” or visit the Cognizant Business Consulting section of our website.

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Why CIO Now Stands for ‘Chief Integration Officer’