CIOs can drive more value than other C-suite executives, says expert

CIO: Female business leader delivering a boardroom presentation
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Chief information officers have more responsibility than ever before, but are the best-placed member of the C-suite to demonstrate growth and innovation, according to an expert.

Those in the role are particularly well-situated to generate growth and revenue by reducing costs and changing internal processes, said Anthony Byrne, partner leading technology practice for the UK and Ireland at EY.

Speaking on the ITPro Podcast, Byrne spoke of the twin roles that many CIOs are expected to play as ‘blockers’ and ‘enablers’ for new tech, noting that those who can manage both can excel in their field.

“The CIO’s bucket of tools to be able to drive value is probably greater than anybody else on the executive team right now,” Byrne told ITPro.

“So what they need to do, in my view, is get very literate about where the value pots are, and not talk generally about technology. This conversation needs to be: ‘We can see that we are incurring greater costs in a space, whether it be business services or in our finance function, or how we're operating today’.”

In more traditional settings, CIOs have sometimes gained a reputation as ‘blockers’ who slow the implementation of new technologies in the interest of safety.

While some firms bring in CIOs for the duration of a digital transformation project or internal systems overhaul, Byrne said other CIOs may struggle to change their work persona from those “trying to keep your laptop safe, trying to keep your SAP system or your Oracle system operating in the background”, to someone bringing in disruptive technologies.

Those who can balance both, he said, could seek to gain respect throughout their firm, which can translate to increased sway within the C-suite or highlight them as CEO material.

The approach of bringing in a short-term CIO or other dedicated executive to carry out a transformation project may also be unnecessary or even detrimental to a company’s strategy.

Byrne urged more traditional businesses to focus on their vision rather than assigning too many roles to specific product categories or risk losing the confidence of staff and stakeholders.

While CIOs are still responsible for keeping systems running and safe from cyber attacks, they are also expected to oversee innovation within the operating model of their business and ensure they are keeping their technology stack up to date.

“The spectrum of what we're asking a CIO to do is absolutely huge, keeping the lights on 24 hours a day while trying to innovate is a massive task for anybody.”

Byrne also noted that companies are under more pressure than ever when it comes to implementation, in order to derive value from their investments. Whereas CIOs could once deliver new systems within 18 months, this now occurs on a quarterly basis.

Changing the way employees engage with technology, on a cultural level, is also a key area that CIOs could target to drive organization-wide value. 

Byrne named agile development and more accessible tools as two routes to achieving this, and stressed that the CIO is as much a people role as a tech role.


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People management skills can be key for CIOs, with empathy and persuasiveness proving invaluable skills when it comes to overhauling the way a business operates. 

Effective CIOs will be able to assuage fears employees could be having such as mass layoffs driven by AI while presenting a positive vision for their company, Byrne said.

In the current economic climate CIOs could also demonstrate effectiveness by achieving growth through technological improvements, as well as by delivering savings through faster and at lower cost.

“Cloud computing is so available now, that it’s no longer got the burden of CapEx control that the CIO used to have. You can, as a business, within your operational budget start engaging with digital twins and what you’re getting is a lot of grey IT that's happening because the business is trying to move on. 

“Because they feel actually, if I have to go through my traditional CIO route, you know, this is going to take me a long time, we're gonna have to go through all those restrictions.”

Going forward, CIOs may adopt different titles or merge with other roles such as chief digital officers (CDOs) or specialist titles like chief metaverse officer.

“I would lose the title of CIO, because it's got connotations and history behind it,” Byrne suggested.

“I think you need is either a chief digital officer because it sounds relevant and what people will be hearing in the media and around them or a transformation officer, which gives them license, to transform the business, and bring in the conversation about new opportunities we have, whether that's an AI or the metaverse.”

Rory Bathgate
Features and Multimedia Editor

Rory Bathgate is Features and Multimedia Editor at ITPro, overseeing all in-depth content and case studies. He can also be found co-hosting the ITPro Podcast with Jane McCallion, swapping a keyboard for a microphone to discuss the latest learnings with thought leaders from across the tech sector.

In his free time, Rory enjoys photography, video editing, and good science fiction. After graduating from the University of Kent with a BA in English and American Literature, Rory undertook an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies at King’s College London. He joined ITPro in 2022 as a graduate, following four years in student journalism. You can contact Rory at or on LinkedIn.