What exactly is a CIO? The name is a Chief Information Officer, but the role of the CIO is to take business needs, requirements, and opportunities, at the highest level and guide IT decision making so as to consider the specific needs of your business, while considering the full range of IT possibilities.
CIOs do a lot, from overseeing how the IT department is run and treated, to providing the most important interface between technical staff and the business, to creating strategic roadmaps and planning, to creating a structure for engaging vendors, suppliers, partners, and contractors.
Functioning without a CIO can be dangerous and costly. Without a CIO a company is often vulnerable to vendors trying to sell the next big score, strategies copied from a book rather than catering to the needs of the business, and tech being deployed for the sake of tech rather than specifically in support of the business’ unique challenges and opportunities. Of course, like with any position, having the right CIO is important, as well.
IT is a key player in any business. Of course, you can focus on doing as little with your IT department as possible, but this often backfires. Without proper management, IT often becomes very costly in ways that are not always obvious. It is common to find IT departments, even in very small companies, with budgets many times larger than they should practically be; literally spending 200-500% the amount that they should be. Lacking strategic oversight makes it easy to accidentally overspend without even realizing lower cost options are possible, and often even better.
Having spent decades in a CIO role, whether full time or consulting, I can tell you that it is very common to walk into a meeting and in just a few hours take a project budget for a small business from $150K to just $35K while not losing any capabilities, but delivering more, in fact!
CIOs are a difficult role to fill as they must have a deep business understanding and should be a business advisory role alongside the CFO to the CEO. Your CIO needs to be a part of all strategic decision making and there to help you identify risks, as well as unseen opportunities, at every turn. The CIO needs also to be deeply technical and experienced, otherwise they are easily misled or confused. A CIO may not need to be hands on day to day, but needs a long background in technology to understand the underlying themes and currents of the field. A CIO is a generalist who needs to have worked in the industry, and brought business experience to bear on that experience.
A good CIO is a key strategic planner for your organization. A business specialist with broad technical scope. One of the most important players in making your business efficient, agile, capable, safe, and prepared to rise to meet challenges you may have not yet even envisioned.