Cloud computing, cybersecurity, big data, internet of things and artificial intelligence – fast-moving technology trends have changed the role of the CIO beyond recognition. It’s a development that has been well reported and closely tracked.

We wanted to go deeper. What does it mean when the role of a CIO (or CTO or Head of IT – the key person responsible for all IT decision-making) evolves to become a strategic business leader? How do they feel about the pace of innovation and regulation? And does the world around them understand who CIOs truly are now?

To understand their mindset, we surveyed 406 CIOs in four key markets: United States, United Kingdom, China and Singapore. CIO in Focus uncovered strong contrasts among CIOs across markets, but also a lot of similarities, especially around key challenges:

  • An expectation of them to be the “New Guardians of Corporate Trust”
  • Misconceptions about their role and differences in how they define their responsibilities; CIOs are not a homogenous group and are often misunderstood
  • The Experience Divide: Their level of experience influences their priorities.

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The five key roles of the modern cio



Trust is any organization’s most valuable asset. It’s under-pressure CIOs who now feel the responsibility of earning it.

The new guardian of corporate trust is the humble Chief Information Officer. Once a back-office function focused on keeping IT systems running, CIOs are rapidly moving into the spotlight to earn any organization’s trust. It’s not just that CIOs have the job to build and protect the core functions of the customer relationship – from data privacy and cyber security to the digital user experience and regulatory compliance. Organizations are also taking CIOs out of their IT silos and asking them to be prominent spokespeople, all the while connecting and orchestrating its policies, operations, workflows – and arguably – its ethics.


the cio is now at the center of building trust

CIOs are at the cutting edge of enterprise innovation. They are in charge of digital transformation, disrupt business models and keep companies agile and nimble enough to act like a start-up, whatever the size. They are also the guardians of data security and customers’ privacy; finally, they have to ensure companies are in compliance with rapidly evolving regulations.


the key concerns and challenges of cios

The problem: CIOs are struggling to keep up. The longer they have been in the CIO role, the more challenged they are by the pace of technology innovation. The startling side effect of CIOs’ rapidly growing responsibilities is the fact that the vast majority of them now fear that both innovation and regulation in their respective industries are moving at too fast a pace.


coping with the speed of innovation and regulation

Arguably, this is a clear sign that the real-world implementation of technologies like cloud and machine learning lag far behind the cutting edge of innovation.



CIOs say that their role has evolved at pace and is now much broader and complex, with many new responsibilities than ever before. Over half (57 percent) say their role has changed a lot over the past five years. The CIO role has broken out of its IT silo to become more integrated, more strategic, more visible, and at the center of trust. However, despite these increasing responsibilities and higher profile, CIOs have never felt so misunderstood by the world around them.

Surprisingly, this confusion extends not just to academics, analysts and the media, but even to staff in their own organizations; people struggle to understand the breadth of their changing role. CIOs with less experience feel this most acutely – 66 percent of those with fewer than five years’ CIO experience say their fellow employees don’t completely understand their role. Half say senior executives within their organization don’t either, and this rises to 70 percent for industry publications, 69 percent for media, and 63 percent for industry analysts.


cios say their colleagues, peers, and media don't understand their role



The CIO in Focus data demonstrates that as the pressure builds and the role of CIOs continues to reach far beyond the traditional boundaries of IT, technology vendors have a responsibility to step up to the plate. Now more than ever, CIOs need their support—not just in identifying and delivering innovative solutions for their organizations, and managing the integration of new technologies with legacy systems (two of their most pressing concerns), but also in leading their organizations’ efforts to earn trust and, in doing so, have the tools and technologies ready to attract customers, retain talent, and grow their business long into the future.



Edelman Intelligence conducted an online questionnaire among 406 CIOs across the UK, the USA, China and Singapore (100 in the UK; 105 in the U.S.; 100 in China and 101 in Singapore).


Get in touch to discuss the findings with one of our technology communications experts