The CIO Role Is Getting Seriously Cool (Incubator Cool)

July 10, 2019

I am guilty of reveling a bit in one of the best parts of my job—working with industry-leading CIOs and learning firsthand about the creative ways they are leveraging technology to push their businesses to higher performance and capability. However, once a year, I feel no guilt for showcasing my backstage pass to the CIO brain trust because of one reason: our annual Harvey Nash Survey. This year’s survey, the 2019 Harvey Nash KPMG CIO Survey, is out. We surveyed 3,645 IT leaders from 108 countries and, in my opinion, several of their insights explain why it’s cooler (and in a few cases harder) than ever to be a CIO.

Why Is the CIO Role Better Than Ever? 


The budgets don’t lie. According to the 2019 Harvey Nash KPMG CIO Survey Results, IT budgets have never been bigger. The number of respondents who say they are increasing their budget is now at an all-time high of 55%, up from 49% in 2018. For CIOs today, that means they have more budget leverage to innovate, partner and push their businesses toward the future. It means less time arguing for funds and more time putting great IT ideas into action. 


Most everyone who works in tech has once pictured themselves heading up a gritty, hopeful Silicon Valley startup. With the marketplace and tech changing so fast, every business feels like a startup in some ways. That fact is reflected in the survey results.  According to the survey, 44% of respondents expect to change their product/service offering or business model in a fundamental way over the next three years. CIOs and their technology counterparts across the business, from CDOs to CMOs, will be at the heart of these transformations. Why? Because tech touches everything and these tech leaders will be essential in planning and designing the products and business models that will push the company into the future. 


CIOs who are digital leaders (defined in the survey as IT leaders who work for organizations that are “very or extremely effective at using digital technology to advance their business strategy”) are outperforming their peers in several ways. According to the survey, digital leaders are three times more likely to collaborate strongly with business leaders. That means they are working more effectively with their peers, more engaged with business needs, and better informed and equipped to create tech-driven solutions for meeting the needs of the business. 

The survey also finds that digital leaders are three times more likely to invest time in upskilling non-IT people, increasing the IT capabilities of the organization. They are arming people with the tech skills to elevate their capabilities and the company’s performance. And the survey found they are more than three times more likely to employ methodologies that speed up project delivery. In today’s world, speed is a great asset and the CIOs who know how to achieve it are having a profound impact.


For years, cybercrime was a rising and maddening threat. From 2014 to 2017, for example, the survey tracked a rise from 22% to 32% of IT leaders saying they had “experienced a major cyber-attack” in the prior two years. Now, for the first time since Harvey Nash began tracking cybercrime in the CIO Survey, the incidences of it appear to be stabilizing. Those CIOs reporting cyber-attacks fell from 33% in 2018 to 32% in 2019. And while the decline is small, spirits are strong. CIOs who reported feeling “very well prepared for cyber-attacks” increased to 26% this year from 22% in 2018. 


Finally, the sheer volume of emerging and game-changing technologies taking root across the marketplace makes this an exciting time to be a tech pioneer. For example, one in five CIOs said their organizations are making headway with an emerging technology such as quantum computing, IoT (internet of things), RPA (robotic process automation) and AI (artificial intelligence). Acronyms aside, each one of these technologies offers rich opportunities for businesses to innovate, disrupt and lead, and for CIOs to lead those efforts.  And what role is cooler than Chief leader of innovation and disruption? 

Where IT Loses Some Cool Points

While there’s lots to be excited about in this year’s survey, it’s important to point out that there remain critical areas of improvement, especially around gender diversity in IT leadership. According to the survey results, only 12% of IT leaders are women in 2019 and that number stayed the same from the prior year. While diversity has been a big topic across the sector, the widespread conversations do not seem to be making a material impact.

Yes, today’s CIOs need to be leading the conversations about developing and recruiting female IT leaders but, as the results seem to show, talking is not enough. IT leaders need to be visibly creating opportunities and space for female talent and leadership. The fact is the work and the opportunities of the CIO role today are just too rich in promise to stay locked in old fashioned workplace paradigms. CIOs can and should take all the positive opportunities in front of them—from strong budgets to digital leadership and emerging technologies—and push their organizations to take employment, training and recruitment actions that can change the tech gender and opportunity balance for the better and for the long term.


The Harvey Nash KPMG CIO Survey is a body of research with 20+ years of tech and leadership insight behind it. You are welcome to take my word for it or, better yet, dive into the data yourself at