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The Evolving Role of the CIO

The role of a CIO has been a generally technology-driven role since the CIO position first emerged in the 1980s, explains Malone (2021). As technology evolves and advances so does the role and responsibilities of the CIO (Malone, 2021).

How has the CIO role evolved over the last 5 decades?

The 1980s

In 1981, William Synnott and William Gruber coined the term ‘Chief Information Officer’ in a book about information resource management. They stated that the role was essential in order to respond to the developing complexity that resulted from technological advancements, like digital adoption for example.

The role of CIO materialised as a “C-level executive” with the duty to establish and manage a business’s IT department states Deloitte (2018). During this decade CIOs took the role of “technology developers”, as they had the responsibility of “programming IT infrastructures” of an organisation (Deloitte, 2018).

The 1990s

In the 1990s, the role of CIO diversified to include “business and service responsibilities” along with their IT responsibilities (Deloitte, 2018). This shift in the role occurred when organisations began adopting tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software (Malone, 2021).  As the implementation of internet technologies became increasingly important, CIOs who were seen as “technology aligners” (Deloitte, 2018), assisted CEOs in the definition and design of new business models (Deloitte, 2018).

The 2000s

Businesses began to realise the integral role that IT played in innovation and strategy with the launch of social media, smartphones, search engines, and eCommerce companies (Tucci, 2019). The rise and consumerisation of IT marked a shift in roles for CIOs from supervisors of “centralised computing” to supervisors of an “enterprise’s digital business strategy” (Tucci, 2019). CIOs were acknowledged as executive-level team members and took the function of “technology integrators” with a focus on the effective use of technologies and the creation of synergies in businesses to increase the company’s overall performance (Deloitte, 2018).

The 2010s

CIOs were seen as “technology architects” with their responsibilities shifting towards the integration of external IT services, such as “web services from cloud platforms, and creating holistic accessibility of available technology” (Deloitte, 2018).

CIOs were viewed as entrepreneurial visionaries, as they are able to use their knowledge of current and new technologies to pinpoint opportunities for a business to grow, increase efficiency and differentiate from competitors. (PwC, 2017).

What are CIOs currently focusing on?

According to Bates, CIOs of today need to have insight into the organisation that they didn’t need in the past (Malone, 2021). He further states that CIOs are now expected to have a deep insight into a business’s strategy and convert that into a “technology roadmap” (Malone, 2021). 

A survey conducted by the ‘2022 State of the CIO’ found that CIOs were currently focused on the following activities:

  • Security management
  • Improving IT operations and systems performance 
  • Modernising applications and infrastructure
  • Aligning IT initiatives with business goals

CIOs expect another shift in the CIO role over the next few years. 73% of respondents surveyed in the above-mentioned survey expect an increased focus on strategic business activities, such as the developing and driving of business innovation, the development of business strategies, as well as pinpointing opportunities to differentiate the organisation from its competitors (Foundry, 2022).

From technology experts to key business strategists, CIOs have evolved into key innovators and leaders within companies.


Deloitte, 2018. From the Basement to the Cloud. The Role of the CIO over Four Decades. [online] Deloitte, pp.2-3. Available at: <>

Foundry, 2022. State of the CIO. Rebalancing Act: CIOs Operationalize Pandemic-Era Innovation. [online] Foundry, pp.2-3. Available at: <>

Malone, K., 2021. Then and now: How the CIO role has evolved. [online] CIO Dive. Available at: <>

PwC, 2017. Changing role of the CIO. [online] South Africa: PwC, p.5. Available at: <>

Tucci, L., 2019. The CIO role, from IT operator to business strategist. [online] Tech Target. Available at: <>