Viewpoint / CXO of the Future

CIO of the Future – Masters of Orchestration

Mayfield jointly hosted with Stuart Evans, Director, Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Silicon Valley i-Lab, a roundtable on the evolving role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO).  This is the first in a series of CIO roundtables on the concept of the CIO of the Future.  Around the table were 15 CIOs who shared their collective experiences and defined the requirements for the today’s CIO, as well as in the future.


  • CIOs have evolved from general managers into influencers and orchestrators, with competitive benefit to the business as the key focus.
  • CIOs act as enablers to help the business realize further capabilities and imperatives; they operate as “masters of orchestration” across the many business units of the enterprise.
  • CIOs have always been applying new technologies, but we are moving from IT Transformation 1.0 that was focused on innovative technologies to Transformation 2.0, a true revolution and impact on the business.

Evolving Expectations

The role of the CIO has always had lofty expectations (service can never be down for even 10 seconds, let alone a few minutes). But today’s CIO has many responsibilities well beyond uptime metrics. Rather than focus on technology alone, they are more business-oriented and operate as partners as opposed to service providers. Increasingly, the partnership extends to the board level, whose members have expectations of the CIO to orchestrate and enable a technology-driven transformation for the business.

As a result, CIOs have been placed in the position of both near-term custodian and longer-term architect for the business: managing future unforeseen change while leveraging new and existing technologies. They must help the company properly navigate the rapidly transforming business landscape full of change, while remaining strong communicators. As the role moves to a board level dialogue, the CIO has the role of translating the use of quickly evolving technologies and their potential impact to the business. Digital Transformation is the often-used buzzword in press that drives urgency at the board level of an organization – the business-savvy CIO is generally the best equipped executive to guide this journey and consult with the board on impacts and tradeoffs to the business.

Broadly speaking, all businesses are evolving into digitally-driven businesses. As a result, CIOs are closer to actually running the business. The business side of organizations has always been dominant, but technology is the business now. CIOs often find themselves being the connector between products and operations groups and are increasingly involved in enabling execution across the organization.

Transformation 2.0

Empathy and emotional intelligence are key skills our CIO roundtable members suggested honing for success. With traditional “legacy” IT on its way out, CIOs are increasingly avoiding the distraction of back-office functions and are working more on the business side. Companies are more agile today, with business units often running their own applications, leaving the CIO to architect the enterprise. The role of the CIO has become a partner and consultant to the business. An example phrase, “Your mess for less,” means allowing the business teams to focus on their business issues, while the CIO offers more effective IT. This model accelerates agility, allowing business units to drive their own innovations and further optimize with IT.  Modern CIOs must be able to orchestrate many ecosystems to ultimately drive business value. Hence the CIO as a master of orchestration is the key to business transformation 2.0.

Customer Driven Organization

One key theme of the corporate digital transformation is an effort to get closer to your customer. For the CIO and the IT team a concept of ‘Micro-Suggestions’ was offered by our CIO Roundtable. The concept is to offer more real-time feedback between the CIO and the business. Organizations that move in this direction often become product engineering driven, whereby a constant pursuit of the most effective products and features becomes the key goal across the whole organization. We have already recognized that CIOs are business driven, but this primarily product focused view, puts IT and its organization as a major catalyst to the product-driven enterprise.

Furthermore, providing concrete, tangible activities for employees to work on each day, alongside micro-suggestions that help people continually improve, is another way to keep people on course. One aspect of the discussion focused on the decreasing need for project managers in guiding employee teams. Waterfall planning is being replaced by newer forms of self-management in the workplace including staff level OKRs (objectives and key results), service management, and agile development. Whether or not we’re ready to fully eliminate the project manager role, however, is definitely still a contentious point of debate.


In terms of satisfaction, employees may not be as happy as customers, but the organizational structure and atmosphere in which they work on a daily basis are crucial in this regard. This closely ties into to talent – there are currently 1.4m IT jobs in the US, but only 400K candidates to fill these roles, and future talent turnover could increase. It’s more crucial than ever to keep employees happy and engaged in such an environment. One way to improve employee satisfaction is to keep a high level of trust between employees and senior management.[1]

Touching base with employees, creating surveys, company-wide meetings or other transparent group activities, is a must. One CIO even developed an NPS score for his own role – allowing people to give him a score in the name of transparency as well as continuous evolution and improvement. It has proven to be highly impactful although, sometimes, personally uncomfortable.

The Future

Today’s CIO is both an enabler and agenda-setter for the rest of the company leadership. The role is no longer tactical, but instead must be a strategic, forward-thinking, position that strives to bring the business up to speed with rapidly changing technologies. The future is going to be all about data and not surprisingly, this was a key topic of discussion. We had a spirited discussion about Edge, IoT and 5G and how that would exponentially increase data. The CIO is the only person capable of grasping this immense challenge and architecting the organization of the future. These mega technology trends are huge in their own right and more new big ideas will surely follow. But the CIO’s role in orchestrating these new technologies, and thoughtfully architecting them into the business will clearly not change, in fact we know the role of the CIO is now more critical than ever.

In conclusion, we asked each guest to reflect on the future role of the CIO in a few words. After going around the table, the term “Masters of Orchestration” was proposed, and won the endorsement of our CIO Roundtable.

This is the first in a series of CIO of the Future thought leadership writeups that Mayfield will be capturing, based on real world insights from the expert members of the Mayfield CIO Network. See for more insights on the CIO of the Future.

[1] Lee, Christine. “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Doors of Opportunity Are Open.Society for Human Resource Management. December 2016.

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