I had a recent conversation with Gregory Roberts, Managing Director in Accenture’s Communications, Media and Technology practice which inspired a fascinating exchange: What if CIOs and CFOs had similar career trajectories?

“Back in the [19]80s and `90s, the CFO role was very much internally focused,” noted Greg in my recent book The Big Shift in IT Leadership. “If you look at CFOs today, they’re very externally focused. They are tight to the market and tight to their stakeholders. 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 also evolving into an outward-facing executive with executive leadership skills and an acute sense of the market.

“I think the CIO’s future is very much taking the same path as the CFO,” said Greg. “The most successful CIOs are externally facing executives who talk directly with the folks in the business.

As companies of all types continue to become more customer-centric, there is increased pressure on all organizational leaders involved in customer strategy to optimize the customer experience. This includes the role of the CIO in helping the enterprise to identify ways to deliver great customer experiences.

Looking ahead, ‘customer experience’ will extend beyond the encounters that a customer has with the contact center or their satisfaction following an in-store interaction.

The physical and digital worlds are meshing in new and exciting ways. According to Gartner, 50% of consumer product investments will be redirected toward customer experience innovation by 2017. These big shifts are a reflection of how it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to maintain competitive advantage through price or product and the importance that customer experience will play in helping brands to distinguish themselves.

What this means for the CIO is an increased focus on helping the enterprise to meet the expectations of customers 24/7. 

The shift from a product-focused business model to an experience-led business model creates enormous challenges for CIOs. But it also plays into their strengths, as the means of delivering on customer expectations are largely powered by the use of advanced digital technologies.

Consider Netflix and how its use of consumer data is enabling it to deliver on its customers’ expectations. Netflix is highly adept at using customer data and analytics to determine the type of content its subscribers watch, the time of day they consume content, where they watch and the days of the week they watch series or movies. These capabilities played a significant role in Netflix’s decision to outbid television channels such as HBO and AMC for the rights to the first two seasons of House of Cards in 2011, which has been a huge financial success for the on-demand streaming media provider.

CIOs who are able to leverage these types of capabilities position their companies to meet rising consumer expectations while reinforcing their importance in the customer-focused enterprise.

Key Takeaways

  • CIOs are beginning to follow a similar career trajectory taken by CFOs in the 1980s and 1990s in shifting from an internal focus to an external focus.
  • As companies continue to become more customer-centric, there is increased pressure on organizational leaders – including the CIO – to optimize the customer experience.
  • The shift from a product-focused economy to an experience-led economy plays into CIOs’ strengths for harnessing digital technologies.