As AI Booms, CIOs Step Into the Lead Alongside CEOs

Artificial intelligence is reshaping the role of chief information officers, propelling them closer to the strategic heart of companies than ever before. Increasingly, CIOs are reporting directly to chief executives, marking a significant shift from traditional reporting lines to chief financial officers. This change underscores the growing importance of AI in corporate strategies and the need for businesses to stay competitive in a fast-evolving landscape.

Rob Zelinka, CIO of Jack Henry & Associates, a financial technology firm, highlighted the expanding scope of responsibilities:

They’re putting more and more on the shoulders of that human being. That person is probably responsible for their data strategy, their AI strategy, the technology strategy.

A recent survey by consulting firm Deloitte in February revealed that 63% of U.S.-based technology leaders now report directly to their chief executives, a substantial increase from 41% in 2015. Conversely, the proportion of CIOs reporting to chief financial officers has dropped from 26% in 2015 to just 12% in 2023.

The evolving reporting structure reflects a broader recognition of technology’s pivotal role in driving corporate success. “Interest in generative AI at the commercial leadership level has never been higher around technology,” said Lou DiLorenzo Jr., principal and national U.S. CIO program leader at Deloitte. “Being at the table allows the tech executive or CIO to basically shape that narrative.”

The surge in corporate interest in generative AI began gaining momentum in late 2022, following the public release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot. While many enterprises are still navigating how to implement and govern the technology effectively, CIOs are increasingly seen as key players in guiding their organizations through these challenges. According to Martha Heller, CEO of IT executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates, CEOs who have lagged in investing in data management and new technologies are now looking to their CIOs to develop comprehensive AI strategies.

In addition to their traditional roles, CIOs like Manu Narayan, vice president of IT, data, and operations at Confluent, emphasize the strategic importance of data management. “The modern organization is heavily reliant upon all things data,” Narayan stated, highlighting the role of AI and data management in setting strategic direction.

This trend is evident across various sectors. For instance, George Kurian, CEO of NetApp, mentioned hiring a new executive vice president who will report directly to him and oversee the company’s AI, data management, IT, operations, and cybersecurity, reflecting the necessity of leadership in these integrated areas.

The role of the CIO has evolved significantly, especially during the pandemic when they were crucial in transitioning businesses to remote work. This shift continues as they oversee digital tools for customers and drive technology modernization initiatives.

Anjali Shaikh, a Deloitte managing director and U.S. CIO program experience director, noted, “Generative AI has just reinforced the need to have a technology and digital leader that understands business mission and outcomes, and how they are connected together.”