Purpose of a CIO: The art of influence and delivering valuable change

The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated digital initiatives across the world, forcing lightning-quick adaptation to remote working, virtual environments and new security standards. Much like the world around us, the Chief Information Officer (CIO)’s role has evolved dramatically. Indeed, the remit of the CIO is almost incomparable to that of the same position 10 years ago.

Technology is now an enabler of customer intimacy, of operational effectiveness, of new markets, products and services – all of which contribute to significant competitive advantage and value creation.

At many of our recent virtual roundtables, the consensus was clear that modern-day CIOs require new skills to realise these opportunities. Add to that a technology bias, artistry, orchestration and communication – because people, processes, policy, purpose and technology have to come together, to translate ideas and strategy into meaningful sustained change and desired outcomes. With these considerations in mind, a CIO is definitely not just someone who deploys and manages IT. So what does this mean for the modern CIO?

Understanding your workforce and its leaders

As CIOs evolve from a function-first role to lead strategy and digital transformation efforts, there is a tremendous opportunity to shape the workplace in a scalable and secure way, as well as inspire those around them to actively participate in the business journey.

Matt Williams

Even as CIOs continue to oversee traditional roles, they must be creative and visionary enough to spot the gaps. Having a keen eye across every aspect of the business and being able to translate the need of each component into a solution is vital. After all, they are the catalyst for digital transformation efforts that will ultimately drive strategic initiatives towards business innovation.

From stakeholders and C-suite, to line-of-business leaders and teammates, every individual holds an influence over a business. The CIO has to influence all in the organisation to get the job done and bring about the change needed. This bigger influence on organisational culture has grown with the pandemic, forcing businesses to adopt new ways of working.

Changing the way we think

The subject of digital transformation is not a new one. While many CIOs and their teams would have had robust multi-year rollout plans at the start of 2020, COVID-19 has accelerated adaptation and implementation at a new pace. CIOs who embrace these learnings will be able to sustain new ambition and possibilities, permanently changing the way we think about technology change.

Whilst the pandemic has forced businesses to focus on immediate risks, such as countering an increase in cyber security threats, (in particular ones targeting employees working remotely), collaboration and clarity are more important than ever. CIOs have to align IT goals with business solutions to ensure a balance between competing priorities. Short-term imperatives must eventually give way to long-term vision. Things may change and evolve along the way, but it is important to apply a purpose to strategy that keeps the business moving in the right direction.

Accountability for customer experience and insights

The theme of long-term vision is critical, as digital customer experiences become the secret sauce for an organisation’s competitive edge. Typically, the CIO’s customer is the internal user. If users are customers – and the customers’ customer is the paying public – then the line-of-sight to the customer is shortening through technology as those experiences become increasingly automated.

If 5G, IoT, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and data (and so on) are the components of future customer engagement solutions, the CIO must create a palette to mix these into the right shades when working on a masterpiece. Metaphorically speaking, this is not just about a platform for agile technology adoption, but also a recognition of the need for the CIO to study the subject intimately too. This knowledge of the customer is all about data and how we collect, store and analyse it at every customer touchpoint.

The true value of the CIO

Clearly, the potential a CIO brings cannot be overstated given the current landscape and appetite for change. Leading a successful transformation journey as well as navigating through an unmapped global crisis needs a very capable pair of hands. Naturally, this has to be underpinned with a strong foundation of technology.

That said, it is never solely about the technology. At Telstra, we frequently spend time with CIOs discussing change, and a common thread is that people drive the purpose of technology. This belief is at the heart of everything we do, and it brings our business, teams and customers closer to our vision of a connected future.

As such, the CIO must find harmony and balance between technology, ambition, business need, the workforce and ultimately the customer. Any new business transformation project must begin with a proactive and adaptive culture across the organisation – embraced by the board, business leaders and employees. It is a big challenge, but one which the CIO today can never over-prepare for.


Matt Williams

Head of EMEA, Telstra


Scroll to Top