By Wayson Vannatta, CIO at WatchGuard Technologies
Just ten years ago, a traditional CIO was responsible for managing and protecting an organization’s network perimeter, intellectual property (IP) and various IT assets at an operational level. Often looked at as a compulsory cost center, a CIO’s work back then was generally preventative and reactive. But the advent of cloud computing, the deluge of contemporary cybersecurity issues and the data-centric nature of the world we now live in have altered technology leadership roles.
At the enterprise level specifically, many responsibilities that would fall within a traditional CIO’s job description have been absorbed by other executive leadership roles. Today, just 58% of CIOs sit on the board compared to 71% just two years ago, and nearly two-thirds of organizations now allow a “business-managed” IT spend. As these disruptive forces continue, CIOs at midmarket and smaller organizations in particular might be left wondering, “With all this change, am I on my way out?”
Let’s explore the three major industry disruptions that have reshaped the role of the CIO at the enterprise level:
Cloud – The rapid adoption of cloud computing has changed the technology landscape as we know it. Topics like hybrid and multi-cloud, microservices and containers dominate headlines and conferences. But what’s really impacting our world is the underlying DevOps movement – or the shift toward combining and streamlining software development and IT operations. DevOps culture seeks to spur greater collaboration and communication across departments, shared responsibilities across more autonomous teams, and increasingly accelerated, efficient deployment cycles.
Now that infrastructure and applications are no longer separate, businesses don’t need the CIO to manage server setup, code deployment, application management and other previously manual IT tasks. When a CTO wants to implement new technologies like Kubernetes or adopt a new SaaS solution, why go through the CIO as the middle man? As organizations look to become more agile and efficient, this is one of the reasons why many of the responsibilities we traditionally looked at as “CIO-level” are being redistributed to CTOs who have direct ownership over the resources and the cloud infrastructure that runs their applications.
Security and Privacy – Cybersecurity has never been more top-of-mind for the industry and the general public – and for good reason. The average cost of a data breach today is $3.9 million, according to IBM. Security concerns aren’t going anywhere anytime soon either. In fact, Global Markets estimates that by 2024, the cybersecurity market will be a $300 billion industry. We’re seeing the effects of this ever-growing wave of security incidents from a legislative standpoint as well – just look at GDPR or the recently instated California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Businesses are much more concerned with security, data privacy risks and compliance than they ever have been, for fear of facing the stiff penalties associated with GDPR or CCPA violations.
A decade ago, CIOs would typically have a direct report that would serve as the organization’s information security specialist, providing advice on all aspects of data security and privacy upon which the CIO would operate. Due to the sheer level of regulatory, financial and reputational fallout data breaches and privacy incidents can now cause, these responsibilities transitioned away from CIOs to CISOs. The executive information security advisor to the board, CISOs are now responsible for mitigating security and privacy risks, maintaining data security and privacy compliance and preventing incidents from impacting the business.
Data – Over the past decade we’ve seen big data make a big impact on business. Using data analytics, Netflix saves $1 billion per year on customer retention, while Walmart processes 2.5 PB of customer data every hour to increase sales. As the big data era has progressed, we’ve seen machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) take center stage. In fact, analyst firm IDC predicts that spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach $77.6 billion in 2022! In the past, CIOs would typically be responsible for collecting data, organizing it and looking back after the fact to report on what happened.
Data today is less about where you’ve been and more about where you’re going. Now, we view data as a business enabler that can highlight meaningful trends, provide predictive models and help maximize efficiency and profitability. As such, companies are more focused on digital transformation initiatives, meeting increasing demands for faster and more comprehensive access to data, and the quantity and type of tools necessary to collect and analyze data at scale.
In response to this transition, enterprise-level CIOs have become less involved in direct data management as companies increasingly espouse the chief data officer (CDO) position. With more technical savvy and the ability to quickly leverage new technologies to take complete ownership over company data, the CDO leads data governance, management and protection, while embedding AI in systems to streamline workflows and reduce manual processes and decision making.
CIOs: It’s Time to Transform Your Inner “I”
The good news is these enterprise-level disruptions of the CIO role represent an opportunity to re-examine your position and make some adjustments to become more of a proactive business enabler. Here are six routes every midmarket CIO can explore to take on new responsibilities, transform their inner “I” and help their organization become more efficient and profitable in 2020 and beyond:
- Become a “Chief Improvement Officer” – It’s time to become a more well-rounded, versatile CIO. Learn scripting languages like Python or Ruby to enhance cloud management. Spend time educating yourself on secure coding best practices. Scan industry podcasts like Arrested DevOps, The 443 – Security Simplified or Super Data Science for key industry trends. You need to invest time and energy into improving your capabilities in areas that will in turn improve your team and business.
- Tackle the role of “Chief Instigation Officer” – Be someone that challenges your company to try new things. Should your organization have adopted multi-factor authentication by now? Is it time to finally transition away from that old data warehouse nobody wants to manage? Develop your vision for IT improvement, understand and overcome potential obstacles, and instigate change!
- Develop a reputation as “Chief Influencing Officer” – Work on building your influence by collaborating with other leaders throughout the organization. Talk to your CMO about their top priorities and technology considerations. Proactively engage with the legal department about privacy and compliance issues. Understand your board members’ major goals and concerns. Approach each of these interactions as an enabler and as someone looking to use your influence and expertise to support positive change.
- Reimagine yourself into a “Chief Investment Officer” – As a CIO you need to proactively demonstrate the value of the services you deliver. The best way to approach this is to use cold hard data to educate other executives about your current projects, progress and challenges, as well as potential roadblocks and opportunities. For example, to educate your CFO on your organization’s security posture, break down your budget into spending across things like prevention, detection and response, and highlight any potential gaps or areas for improvement. Explain the cost of a data breach and provide examples. Whatever your case may be, make it by being detailed and transparent, demonstrating ROI, calculating costs versus output, etc.
- Take on the role of “Chief Initiative Officer” – As a CIO, you need to understand your business inside and out – even the aspects outside of your department. You must take the initiative to become knowledgeable about other parts of the business. Take the lead on new initiatives that will better support other departments. Learn about finance and use that knowledge to support smarter business decisions. Increase operational efficiency by introducing AI or ML capabilities before customers ask. The list goes on. This will allow you to demonstrate more value and become engrained across your entire organization.
- Transform into a “Chief Innovation Officer” – As the saying goes, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” To prove your value as a CIO today, it’s important to always look for creative ways you can help strengthen your business. Push for better off-network user protection by implementing DNS-level security. Propose using a cloud data warehouse to store your older network logs in order to reduce your SIEM storage costs while preserving your ability to troubleshoot issues. Advocate for security to be built into the DevOps cycle. Great things can happen if you reject the status quo and seek out opportunities to innovate.
Industry trends like cloud computing, cybersecurity, big data and more will continue to shake up technology leadership roles at the enterprise level, and increasingly within the midmarket. Transforming your inner “I” in response can dramatically enhance the level of value you bring to your company and prevent CEOs at the midmarket level from feeling the need to add new, specialized C-level roles to address the impact the trends are causing. Given the endless list of priorities CIOs are faced with each day, I’d recommend focusing on just two or three of these six routes over the next year. The first step is opening your eyes, accepting that these changes are necessary, and committing to adapt and evolve.