I read something that spurred a thought this week: “Must demonstrate leadership, deliver value and growth to the organization. Must operate with agility to match and sustain the expectations of employees and proactively collaborate with business groups to deliver to clients.”

You might be forgiven for thinking this was a leaf from a CEO handbook or the mantra of a high flying business leader of a Silicon Valley success story. It is in fact an excerpt from a recent job advert for a mid-sized enterprise CIO role. 

The evolution of the role can be traced to the consumerization of IT, the proliferation of cloud computing and most recently the popularity of design thinking. A perfect storm that created a new landscape in which CIOs, who had historically excelled in controlled environments, were thrust into a fast paced, agile and innovation focused positions.

Sustain the expectations of employees
The need to sustain the expectations of employees has grown as business and consumer technology worlds have collided. The idea of the 9-5 workday slowly became archaic, driven in part by the growth of flexible working conditions and propelled by technologies like video collaboration.  At the same time our expectations of technology and its role in society morphed. Having a computer in our pockets more powerful than that of NASA’s December 2014 Orion Spaceship, (destined for Mars) has spiked our expectations and demands on technology at home and at work. Workplace technology must perform as fluidly and intuitively as our personal devices, or CIOs are failing to meet these expectations.

Helping deliver to clients
With IT now the enabler for every part of the business and a broader understanding of what and how it can deliver impact results, department leads are willing to take a punt on software solutions to get the job done.  A reinvigorated approach to business, popularised by start-ups who benefitted from employing agile and customer centric thinking AKA ‘design thinking’ catalysed the need for CIOs to redefine themselves and support business goals. IT was pulled into the spotlight to mend broken business systems and respond at much faster rates to changing customer demand.

To get a sense for the modern CIO focus on client delivery and product innovation, we only need to look at recent high profile CIO hires. UK betting power House William Hill appointed Kevin O’Connor as CIO in January and he claimed his priority tasks are innovating and improving products for clients: “We also want to build new products for SSBTs and we are the first in the market to do that as everyone else licenses from the same third party. We need to control and improve products for our clients, we need to offer facilities [such as] ways of redeeming winnings,” he says. “We also need to offer a different user experience. And we’re not going to do that by using the same products as other people.”

Tools of the trade
With technology still at the heart of the role, the biggest challenge for CIOs in 2016 is navigating this new environment in a productive and secure manner. Speaking on the changing nature of the role at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Florida in October 2015 Daphne Jones, CIO for global services IT at GE Healthcare said: “The first step toward that kind of leadership in a digital economy, is knowing the business as well as the business knows itself -- understanding the marketplace trends and where opportunity for growth is. Knowing technology is important, but it's not everything.”

Working across business groups is essential to gaining an intimate understanding of the unique challenges they are experiencing and gleaning intelligence to shape smarter technology choices. Implementing a scalable video collaboration suite like Blue Jeans, that enables real-time face to face meetings is one way to stop the churn of email and get to the heart of the issues in real-time, with the people facing the challenges. Gartner predicts that "By YE 2018, 75% of workers at large organizations will interact with various kinds of video more than three times daily" no doubt in part due to its ability to tackle situations in a more human and ultimately more effective way.

Video collaboration platforms go beyond internal problem solving too; encouraging these departments to use the tools available to look outside the business for inspiration and get closer to the customer can help position a CIO as a game changer. Get this right and they create paths of less resistance and build a transparent, trusting communication culture.

Security and scalability
Driving innovation in other business groups might help a CIO make friends and influence people but if there are holes in the security of IT systems and solutions initiated, it’s still the CIO’s neck on the block. The solution must be secure, manageable, reliable, scalable, and customizable. Strategically the solution needs to integrate with the common workplace apps, workflows, endpoints, and infrastructure. It has to work; it must be simple for end users to engage with or the CIO risks pushing staff back to the consumer solutions that carry significant vulnerabilities and cut visibility.

With a distributed workforce, the data CIOs are responsible for becomes mobilized and the threat of misuse or leakage is amplified. Having an enterprise video cloud ensures connections always work and protects the company’s network and user information. Global points of presence ensure easy connectivity, redundancy and uptime.

So while the CIO of today faces an entirely new batch of challenges that may sit outside their comfort zone, getting the right technology platforms in place will help them step up to the plate and may even help counterparts in other business groups hit some of their own home runs.