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Why your CIO could be the new co-pilot of your business

Key steps to evolve your organization’s tech leadership in an uncertain economy.

In brief
  • How should leaders reframe and integrate tech in their organizations?
  • What role must the CIO now play?

In a shifting business landscape now supercharged by cloud-based technologies and a pervasive switch in consumer behavior that demands frictionless experiences, one thing is certain. Every industry is chasing the increased efficiencies and customer engagement that comes from mobile-first and app-led services. And if they’re not, they will be soon. That’s especially true as the country and institutions face economic uncertainty that will drive even greater needs for efficiency and cost-saving measures.


For financial organizations, almost a century old and still entrenched in branch-based banking and facing an existential threat from FinTechs, the urgency to accelerate digital transformation is acute. But how should leaders reframe and integrate tech within their organizations for maximum efficiency, long-term value and customer demands? And what role must the chief information officer (CIO) now play, when almost every product and business process is experienced through technology? Let’s take a closer look at just what’s changing, why, and the steps financial services organizations must now take to change mindsets and increase relevancy for the future.


The democratization of tech throughout the organization

Instead of siloed “IT departments” maintaining control of a company’s tech needs and CIOs being graded by their “span of control” and budgets, that day-to-day functionality has now passed to business unit leads, who are more and more being referred to as “chief product officer” or mini-CEOs of their businesses. A good example would be the shift to product-centric organizational model seen recently at one of the country’s largest multinational investment banks. The transition from a functional organization to a fully vertically integrated profit and loss (P&L) model doesn’t happen overnight and must follow a phased approach. During the evolution, most organizations will develop stronger intake processes between business and technology and improve both their product portfolio rationalization process and agile funding process.

Organizational change — transitioning to the mini-CEO and product officers

As tech talent becomes embedded into business units throughout your organization, those business leaders must become empowered to make both business and technology decisions. In this way, each business unit lead will oversee product or service development, go-to-market launch, consumer or business marketing, as well as engineering and operations in a much more streamlined and direct operational model. These mini-CEOs and chief product officers will create localized frameworks, align appropriate product-level tech talent and implement leading practices for their business units, collapsing silos into their teams. Each should ideally report into executive leadership and ultimately the newly evolved CIO, who will now be able to focus on broader policy and enterprise-wide strategies and needs.

Role change — creating business opportunity with evolved CIO leadership

With greater freedom, the CIO should take a far more strategic and supervisory role for the organization, embraced by leadership. As mini-CEOs and chief product officers assume responsibility for their vertically integrated P&L product lines, the CIO is now recast as a strategic advisor — upward to executive management on tech policy, and downward to product tech teams, as a “guild-lead” for technologist and engineer career paths throughout the organization and the “head of platform,” owning the standard set of patterns that products are built upon. Many CIOs in the past have been reluctant to relinquish local level oversight due to concerns over integration and vulnerability but the rapid progress of cloud-based systems, data analytics and automation across organizations has fueled a change in their perspective. As the role of CIO evolves, the focus should be on these key areas:

  • Security: strategic oversight of cybersecurity, data privacy and growing regulatory requirements
  • Stability: a keen focus on the policies, tools and processes required for future-proofing operations as systems age and become outdated
  • Innovation: creating and implementing new tech that can give your organization an operational or competitive edge

Enacting this role change will also bring business benefits. Increased regulatory focus on operational resilience will require rethinking of the way IT organizes and operates to meet the dual objectives of accelerating service delivery and assuring service stability. And with greater ability to consider broad, enterprise-wide policies, as well as processes and requirements for business goals, the new CIO role will bring considerable business benefits that start with the ability to drive an enterprise-wide IT vision that aligns around business imperatives and drives growth. These might include a more defined focus on customer-centric products and practices that consumers now demand in banking and the ability to create both greater business agility and flexibility to meet change in a timely manner. You can also expect more streamlined, integrated technology and an improved cross-functional collaboration to achieve operational efficiencies in a complex, multi-vendor landscape.

Evolving the tech environment and teams for success and what to expect

As you reshape your product offerings and into a more product (value-stream-aligned) organization, tech must align accordingly. That means the orientation of business and tech teams around product delivery. It will also require teams empowered to take risks without retribution and oriented around your new product offerings, coworker trust and enhanced team unity as the organization’s structure evolves. Change may demand new roles and support for them too, as well as investment in greater connectivity and communication processes and tools as hybrid work becomes the norm. Work with your HR lead in all of this to establish the leading practices to support your business and tech goals moving forward. 

Your newly elevated CIO will now effectively manage broader imperatives that build systems, services and delivery models to create digital trust and realize end-to-end security across your organization, effectively helping you navigate your business like any trusted co-pilot should. There will be a strong need to change behavior, of course, as well as mindset, attitude, culture and employee skills within the organization to help the shift from product-based program to a more scalable way of driving change across the firm a reality.

Sandra Arvizu also contributed to the article.


Ultimately, successful transformation will undoubtedly deliver greater consumer relevance and business resilience, but it should also enable effective technology leadership that works in lockstep with business goals and growth strategies.

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