Five Things a New CIO Must Do to Operate as a Business Leader - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #454

Five Things a New CIO Must Do to Operate as a Business Leader

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In the age of ‘big data’ and all pervasive social media the role of the CIO is increasingly important. However, traditionally seen as a ‘techie’, the CIO needs to shift perspective to operate as a business leader; and the newly appointed CIO must position her or himself to take on this leadership role.


The increasing sophistication of communication technologies and channels, data analytics, market intelligence, and virtual working in organizations has dramatically increased the strategic importance of information. At the same time, digital literacy in the boardrooms of the organizations this affects remains far too low. This has created a leadership vacuum that the CIO can potentially fill.

To fulfil this potential the CIO needs to step up and act like a legitimate business leader. Yet historically, and in many organizations today, the CIO is more comfortable working on the technical aspects of IT systems than helping to devise and deliver overall business strategy.

Recent research into the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) has highlighted what newly appointed incumbents must do to succeed. Professor Joe Peppard, from the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) in Berlin, suggests there are five things newly appointed CIOs must do in order to become credible and legitimate business leaders.

  • Be prepared for surprises, even after extensive due diligence. Nothing beats actually being in your new organization. You have to remember that the initial information you collected was given to you in a process designed to encourage you to join the company or accept the new position.
  • Use the first 90 days to learn about the organization. This goes beyond simply diagnosing IT problems and assessing your IT leadership team. It includes understanding the political environment, company culture and strategy as a whole as well as who the company power brokers are.
  • Recognise that what worked for you in the past might not be successful again. Successful transitions are described as ‘doing the right things, the right way’. Understand the company’s culture and capacity for change and institute an action plan that fits.
  • Build a shared vision for the role and contribution of IT. Being forward-looking – envisioning exciting possibilities and galvanising others in a shared view of the future – is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders.
  • Build C-Suite IT savvy by delivering demonstrative value. The best way to increase the IT savvy of your executive stakeholders is to demonstrate how IT can generate value and enable key business strategies. It is important to set realistic expectations and measure business results post-implementation. Once projects begin to yield value, you can start building momentum. Remember, most executives will not have bought into the shared responsibility view of IT and will see anything to do with information and IT as falling outside the scope of their responsibilities.

Professor Peppard says, “This research shows the way for newly appointed CIO’s in what is an increasingly daunting and ambiguous role. Given the disruptive potential of technology, the CIO is perhaps more important to todays’ organization than ever before, and yet they are often still seen as the ‘Black Sheep’ of the C-suite.” 


It should be the CIO’s responsibility to work with C-suite colleagues to make sure that information is harnessed in the most beneficial way for the organization.

Boards and C-suite colleagues need to encourage the CIO to take on this responsibility, provide the necessary support, and become themselves more digitally savvy.

For HR and L&D heads there is a need to ensure new CIOs have the support they need to operate effectively in a leadership role within the organization, and that they receive the necessary leadership development and coaching to maximise their leadership capabilities. 



How Newly Appointed CIOs Take Charge. Anthony B. Gerth & Joe Peppard. MIS Quarterly Executive (September 2014).

Why CIOs Can Struggle in a Leadership Role. Joe Peppard. ESMT Knowledge (30th March 2014).

Building CEO-CIO Partnerships for Digital Growth, article based on workshop led by Joe Peppard at CIO-CITY 2013.

5 Things Newly Appointed CIOs Must Do to Succeed. ESMT Press (22nd November 2013).

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Idea conceived

March 30, 2014

Idea posted

Oct 2014
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