modern-executives-cropped-newI spoke recently with my good friend Barbara Cooper, the former CIO of Toyota North America. Barbara is now a consultant and an executive coach in Phoenix and she’s always a wonderful source of insight. 

From my perspective, Barbara is a genuine pioneer in many ways. She’s had a highly successful corporate career spanning four decades and crossing five industries: retail, financial services, municipal government, logistics/distribution and automotive. She is an innovator and risk-taker known for her passion for business alignment, organizational strategy, and optimizing and developing exceptional IT talent.

She became the first female vice president in the technology function at American Express and led the company globally into the personal computing and networking generation, connecting travel offices and operating centers around the world together for the first time. At Toyota, her reputation as an innovator elevated her to the top echelons of technology leadership.

I asked Barbara to describe the evolution of the CIO role and her response was especially timely. “Today’s CIO has to be comfortable with taking risks,” she says. “Modern markets move with unbelievable speed. Keeping pace with them requires taking risks. In the past, CIOs didn’t have to manage high levels of risk. Now they do.”

I admire Barbara’s succinct analysis of the difference between the traditional CIO and today’s version of the role. “The modern CIO is more of a Chief Innovation Officer and a Chief Digital Officer,” she explains. “These days, CIOs are far more likely than their predecessors to be engaged in the customer experience and involved across the entire supply chain at every conceivable touchpoint.”

The CIO’s role has been elevated from a back-office job to a key business strategy role with major responsibilities spanning the enterprise. “For the modern CIO, everything is on the table. The digital age demands new business models that require new internal structures within the corporation,” Barbara says. “The CIO is perfectly positioned to guide the business through the structural changes that are necessary for getting the maximum value from technology investments.”

I agree completely with Barbara. It’s not enough to talk about being an “agile enterprise.” Great companies empower their CIOs to make the structural changes necessary to make sure that information flows smoothly and seamlessly across silos and departments. From my vantage point, the ability to guide corporate restructuring is definitely part of the modern CIO’s portfolio of executive skills.