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CIOs who master digital transformations will win CEO jobs

Clint Boulton | March 14, 2016
CIOs who work closely with CEOs to direct digital strategies will eventually find themselves in the CEO’s seat themselves, according to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.

It might seem ironic for the leader of the company that blazed the trail for shadow IT to acknowledge that the CIO's role has ratcheted up several notches in importance. Yet in a sign of how, in the words of Marc Andreessen, “software is eating the world” and perhaps irrevocably altering the business landscape, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff says that the CEO is working closely with the CIO to architect digital transformations. Eventually, some of those CIOs will become CEOs, he said.

"We're in a new world where the CIO is redefining their role and the partnership that they have with the CEO today is, I think, never happened before in our industry,” Benioff said, speaking to about 100 CIOs at the Forbes CIO Summit in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

What is driving this change? Benioff says that every company is afraid of being “Uberized out of the world,” a reference to how the ride-sharing startup has disrupted the transportation industry, one of the latest examples of the innovator’s dilemma, in which established businesses fall behind after failing to innovate. As a result, CEOs are formulating their digital strategies, and enlisting their CIOs is their core partner for enablement and capability. The CIO has become the Robin to the CEO's Batman.

CIOs shine at executing CEOs’ digital agenda

Digital transformations are accelerating, according to research from Forbes Insights. Thirty-one percent of 305 CIOs, CEOs and other senior executives the researcher surveyed said that digital transformation, defined as shifts to cloud, mobile, analytics and social capabilities, will expand significantly within the next 24 months. Another 58 percent expecting to expand their digital activities at a more moderate pace. In five years, 42 percent predict their jobs will be mostly digital.

Benioff said that CIOs have evolved beyond managing financials, general ledger, and email to hashing out digital agendas with their CEOs. "When I look at what the CIO does today... it's very different than where it was a decade ago," Benioff said. "I don't think that you can separate the CEO and CIO relationship any longer."

CIOs who are able to guide successful digital transformations will eventually become CEOs, Benioff said. "The CIOs are going to become the CEOs because to become the CEO, you're going to need this [digital] capability ... More and more you'll see the CIO becoming the chief executive officer because the board ... is getting a lot of exposure to the CIO and then the board says that CIO has got that vision, has that idea and knows the digital transformations that we have to make to get back to growth. And the growth is going to come from the delivery of these next generation services. That's the CEO's job."  

 

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