“Transformation” is one of those buzzwords of the moment. We’ve heard about business transformation, finance transformation, tax transformation – just about every segment of the corporate world is now subject to being coupled with “transformation” and bombarded with advice about how to get things done better.

But while our innate cynicism may lead us to be wary of more transformations, the truth is just because everyone’s saying it doesn’t mean it isn’t so. One of the few positive outcomes of the financial downturn of the last decade has been the realization that ongoing innovation and transformation really are required to stay ahead of not just our direct competition, but the evolutionary changes in the marketplace that can turn leaders into dinosaurs if they don’t keep up.

The good thing about being in the IT sector is that one almost by definition has to be able to accept often rapid change in order just to do one’s job. It wasn’t that long ago that big mainframes with dumb terminals were what businesses used, that personal computers were just a dream, accessible mainly to hobbyists putting kits together.

The GUI was invented in Palo Alto just 41 years ago; Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak still had a few years to go before producing their first complete computer for sale; and who outside of the writers on Star Trek could conceive of hand held communicators, computer voice control, or tablets, and even they didn’t have your average consumer using that tech to pay premiums, file claims, or review service.

The tech world has changed dramatically in the lifetime of many who now serve as Chief Information Officers (CIOs), and they’ve had to figure out how to keep up. But, as we’ve often said lately, now it is time for CIOs to change their world and expand beyond the traditional role of builder of technology and enabler of the business to become an integral part of building the business itself.

According to research conducted by my colleagues, Vikram Mahidhar and David Schatsky many CIOs agree. In their Deloitte University Press paper, The dual roles of the CIO in the digital age, the two note that, “As spending on cloud, mobile, analytics, and social technology soars, CIOs have the opportunity to help drive strategy, innovation, and revenue growth.”

Mahidhar and Schatsky say leading “CIOs describe their roles in terms such as ‘imagination,’ ‘chief innovation officer,’ and ‘revenue-generator CIO.’“ This is a far cry from the external view of CIOs as guardians of the technology infrastructure, and a much more expansive view of both the responsibilities of and possibilities for today’s CIO. But it does parallel the evolution of the finance function from essential service organization to value adding business builder and partner, and provides an optimistic roadmap for IT.

That expanded view of the CIOs role should come with added visibility and opportunity. This may help explain why Mahidhar and Schatsky found that 70% of CIOs attending a Wall Street Journal CIO networking event envisioned becoming CEOs someday. When CIO is no longer seen as a technical position, the CIO —appropriately — is more strongly seen as a top contender for the corner office.

That calls for a redefinition of values. Mahidhar and Schatsky contrasted the emerging values of enterprise IT with the values of traditional IT. Among other items, agility replaces stability as the core value. In place of minimizing risk, the new risk posture becomes managing it to the appropriate level. Replacing the traditional focuses on operations management, custom software development and packaged software deployment are the new key skills of advising and guiding business leaders, strategy, innovation, technology orchestration, and vendor management.

The old skills are still needed, but the new CIO is so much more. With the digitization of commerce, the challenges are greater than ever for CIOs, but so are the potential rewards.

Howard Mills is Director and Chief Advisor for the Insurance Industry Group at Deloitte LLP and a former Superintendent of the NY Insurance Department. He may be reached at HowMills@Deloitte.com

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