A recent conversation with Gregory Roberts of Accenture inspired a fascinating question: What if CIOs and CFOs had similar career trajectories?

Greg is a Managing Director in Accenture's Communications, Media and Technology practice. In our conversation, he mentioned the similarities he sees in the evolution of the CFO and CIOs roles.

"Back in the '80s and '90s, the CFO role was very much internally focused. If you look at CFOs today, they're very externally focused. They are tight to the market and tight to their shareholders," he notes. "In many cases, it's the VP of Finance who handles the inward-facing operational duties."

From Greg's perspective, the CIO's role is evolving into an outward-facing executive with executive leadership skills and a keen sense of the market. "I think the CIO's future is very much taking the same path as the CFO," says Greg. "The most successful CIOs are externally-facing executives who talk directly with the folks in the business.  In the high tech space, CIOs often work directly with the company's external customers as well."

Greg sees the CIO's evolution as part of the overall shift in focus from inward-facing processes to outward-facing processes. "CIOs need to realize there's been a shift in expectations," says Greg. "CEOs, CFOs and COOs assume that email and other basic IT systems will work. They are looking for CIOs who can bring together technology and business processes to create value."

Problems tend to surface when the CIO doesn't step forward or fails to act as a true partner to the business. That's when "shadow IT" emerges. Greg and I agree that great CIOs are willing to assume the responsibilities of executive leadership, even when those responsibilities take them out of their comfort zone. For example, today's CIOs need to understand the benefits of high performance analytics from a business perspective. They also need to make sure they have access to the infrastructure required to run high performance analytics and deliver real value to the business.

"Historically, CIOs were able to accomplish their responsibilities within the four walls of the IT department. Outsourcing changed that mindset, but only to a certain degree," notes Greg. "Today, the great CIOs take a partnering approach. They understand that they might not have the expertise necessary to accomplish everything they need to do, and they look for partners who can help them. That reflects an evolving maturity that wasn't always there in the past."

Greg suggests that great CIOs of the future will act as "brokers" who are capable of working with a wide variety of partners. "I do think it's going to be interesting to see that evolution over time," says Greg.

The modern enterprise puts a high value on growth and operational efficiency. IT needs to deliver on those expectations.  Great CIOs provide the leadership necessary to meet future business needs with speed, transparency and accountability. If there's one thing we all surely agree on, it's that IT cannot become an impediment to value creation.

Advanced analytics, machine learning and the Internet of Things are three areas where CIOs must provide credible leadership and make absolutely certain that IT is aligned with the business.

Greg and his colleagues at Accenture have articulated eight essential capabilities that IT must deliver to the business:

  1. Strategic Agility - sense and respond quickly to industry shifts
  2. Innovation - constantly identify and create new sources of value
  3. Adaptability - collaborate and integrate easily across markets, firms and functions
  4. Differentiation - sustain and grow competitive advantage
  5. Speed to Market - deliver new capabilities quickly, and at scale
  6. Flexibility - architect business processes and applications to be fluid and adaptive
  7. Optimization - reduce technical debt and operational complexities
  8. Transparency - ensure clear visibility into value economics across functions

Is your IT organization prepared to partner with the business and are you ready to deliver on those expectations?

I personally believe that CIOs will step up and assume their roles as true partners with the business. If they don't, they will open the door to competition from other executives within the enterprise. Our goal at HMG Strategy is making sure that CIOs maintain their rising career trajectories and stay on the upward path. The future of IT is exceptionally bright and the potential for success is unlimited. The enterprise is counting on us to deliver the expertise, processes and technologies required to get the job done. I am confident that we will.