CIOs, like most IT professionals, are by their nature problem-solvers, so self-assessments and career reviews often get lost in favor of just getting things done. But that’s a mistake.

Executive Summary

CIOs who find themselves looking in from the outside of strategic planning meetings probably have some career soul-searching to do, according to X by 2’s Frank Petersmark. In the evolution of the CIO position, the current version—CIO Version 6.0—demands a hybrid of technology and business skills, he says.

The recent State of the CIO survey from CIO Magazine (Jan. 1, 2014) drives this point home in no uncertain terms. Only 25 percent of CIOs polled indicated that they were viewed and treated by their business executive colleagues as real partners in creating and executing the strategic initiatives of their companies.

Conversely, 48 percent of the CIOs polled indicated that they and their IT divisions were still viewed as somewhere between a service provider at best and a cost center at worst. The survey also highlighted the very real issue of the career prospects of those CIOs who find themselves out of the strategic loop.

This is serious stuff and has implications for the CIO position going forward. The CIO position has a much shorter history than any of the other C-suite titles—unless a company has gone C-suite crazy and established positions like the chief marketing officer and the chief security officer. And even if they have, those much newer positions are generally better defined and more functionally understood than the CIO position.

The curse of the CIO position is having lived, and matured, in interesting technological times. And that brings us to the haves and the have-nots, both for individual CIOs and for their companies. For years it was enough to be a CIO skilled in keeping things running and balancing a budget. Many CIOs performed admirably in those roles, but as quickly as they became proficient in that, their worlds changed.

Today’s CIOs are expected to do much more than that, whether or not they have the prerequisite career experiences and core competencies. The insurance industry, at long last, has come to understand the potential strategic and competitive value of expertly leveraging technology in personal lines, commercial lines and health insurance. That’s a job that requires vision, leadership, communications skills and many other things—and the simple truth is that not every CIO is capable of pulling that off.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do, or that they’re unable to learn new things or grow into such a role. But it does mean CIOs who are beginning to find themselves on the outside of strategic planning meetings looking in have some career soul-searching to do. And if anything, this is a trend that will accelerate over the next few years as companies look to their CIOs to lead the charge toward innovation and the new revenue streams it promises. Mobility is just one striking example.

Developing CIO Version 6.0

And that begs the real question—where will these CIOs come from? The majority of IT professionals currently in management positions are not interested in becoming CIOs, according to a survey published by Computerworld (“Why Few Want to Be the CIO Anymore“).

Combining that trend with the trend of have and have-not CIOs, the potential results are not comforting for the future of the CIO profession. As painful as it might turn out to be, this is the beginning of the next iteration of the CIO profession.

There have been several versions of the CIO position.

  • CIO Version 1.0 was the techie who managed to move up the management chain and stuck.
  • CIO 2.0’s job was to keep the tapes mounted and the batch cycles running.
  • CIO 3.0 was the CIO as technology-expense and efficiency manager.
  • CIO 4.0 was the “let’s-try-this-Internet-thing,” company-website, Y2K, outsourcing-will-solve-everything CIO.
  • CIO 5.0, a big leap forward, was characterized less by technology and infrastructure and more by the role the CIO plays in the organization. This was the era of the urgency of business alignment, which in hindsight doesn’t seem to have solved all of the CIOs problems.

And that brings us to CIO Version 6.0 and the question of where these CIOs who possess a hybrid mix of technology and business capabilities will come from. The game has changed yet again, and everything previously mentioned is now table stakes for this latest CIO release.

Now more than ever the CIO is expected to play an executive leadership role in the organization. Many organizations now want and need CIOs who can play an integral and equally accountable part in the overall success of the organization, including the areas of business growth and financial performance.

However, given the current evolutionary history of the CIO position, there are just not enough of them to go around. That leaves sitting CIOs with a choice: They can either step up to the plate with the requisite skills and capabilities required, or they can consider alternative career choices.

This is by no means a knock against such CIOs but rather a candid acknowledgment that what was good enough a few years ago is no longer good enough. In the end, it will be up to individual organizations to decide if the CIO they have is what that particular organization needs. In a competitive marketplace, both for customers and CIO talent, this will mean that there will be have and have-not organizations for some period of time.

At least until CIO Version 7.0 emerges.