The Evolving Role of the Digital CIO

Peer Practices
Written by Nick Turner

Nigel Watson


Northumbrian Water Group

Doug Grantham


Investec Private Bank

Belinda Finch



Juan Villamil


Imperial College London

Over the past few years, businesses have changed dramatically. For many organisations, recent times of crisis have accelerated digital business as they have adapted to the demands of employees, customers and stakeholders. IT leaders have now spent months redefining strategies and securing their organisations in a world of hybrid work. 

The role of the CIO today looks very different to what it did even just a year ago with opportunities to contribute well beyond the traditional IT function. As Gartner notes, “[CIOs] can actively contribute as chief digital officers, lead major digital initiatives, be more active in strategy development, and enable other executives to contribute to the digital agenda.” 

We asked four leading CIOs about what it takes for IT leaders to add the most value to digital growth, transformation and acceleration.

CIOs and the Business Must Work in Lock Step

Defining, measuring and communicating the business value of IT is challenging for many CIOs. Yet as the role evolves, it’s never been more important to elevate the CIO's contribution to the organisation's overall transformation. IT leaders can no longer simply send summaries of operational metrics to business leaders to demonstrate the value IT provides. CIOs must now ensure that the value story and metrics resonate with the business by evaluating technology investments in terms of risk, cost and value/revenue.

Nigel Watson, CIO of Northumbrian Water, shares, “In my experience, the CIO is now an integral part of the business team, and their objectives are one and the same, i.e. employee experience, customer experience, resilience, sustainability, etc. There is no such thing as a technical success anymore. The CIO really needs to lean into embedding change to deliver business outcomes.”

“The digital CIO must become passionate about driving business outcomes and not just output, as has been so common in the project-based and order-taking paradigm of the traditional CIO,” says Doug Grantham, CIO of Investec Private Bank. “They need to create a Cloud and API-first strategy and look for partners that share the same strategy, which will allow them to increase speed and adaptability as a business.”

Grantham goes on, “When dealing with legacy systems (which I like to call ‘heritage systems’ as they helped businesses get to where they are today), they should think about wrapping them with APIs, as this will help with a pragmatic transformation compared with ‘rip and place,’ which can generally be a much slower, more expensive and larger exercise.”

By embracing cloud and APIs, incremental delivery becomes so much easier, and this in turn enables the generation of value at a much higher pace.”
- Doug Grantham, CIO, Investec Private Bank

CIOs Must Utilise Data to Unlock the Next Level 

Data and analytics strategy is one of the top priorities for CIOs in 2022, and they must tackle it to ensure they have the right tools to evolve with digital business. Their objective to help their organisations become more data driven also helps prioritise digital initiatives and demonstrate their value. 

“At the core of any CIO department must be the data function, so data can drive decisions within an organisation,” says Belinda Finch, CIO of Three. “The success of your business is about making the right decisions with the right insight behind those decisions. It's critical for a CIO to be able to provide the right data in an easily accessible way to be used by all other functions.”

Finch continues, “Another success factor for me is giving as much control to the business functions as possible. If we can automate processes and roll out tools and technologies that allow other functions to fix issues and to launch products themselves without the need to go through a long-winded IT change cycle, then we should do so.”

This is where the value is in IT – by removing the reliance on IT!” 
- Belinda Finch, CIO, Three

Newly Appointed CIOs Must Immerse Themselves in the Industry

CIOs that are new in their roles have a particular challenge in learning where the leadership and the enterprise are when it comes to digital. Gartner cites “the level of digital dexterity in the rest of the C-suite” as a key factor in the CIO’s ability to make an impact on digital initiatives.

“Learn the business and immerse yourself in the industry or sector,” explains Juan Villamil, CIO of Imperial College London. “Meet your new organisation. Network with everyone from the C-suite across the organisation. Identify and learn from the successes and failures of your organisation under the previous leadership.” 

Villamil goes on to share, “You need to figure out early on how your technology organisation can support the business in its ambition. Look for the low hanging fruit and build your short-term plan, then anticipate the future with your long-term plan.”

While CIOs and their teams may be burning out from the events of the past few years, it’s never been more important for IT leaders to prioritise how they spend their time and energy. Ultimately, enterprise digitalisation requires a new enterprise technology delivery model that integrates technology capabilities into business capabilities, and it’s the CIO who has the opportunity to be at the forefront of this change. 


Special thanks to all participating companies.

by CIOs, for CIOs

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