As the C-suite continues to evolve, so does the need for Chief Information Officers. The sought-after position brings strategic vision and critical business leadership to professional service firms as they plan for the future while maintaining a solid, seamless real-time infrastructure.The Alexander Group’s William Lepiesza chatted with us about the uptick in CIO searches, what professional service firms want in a CIO and how the position will continue to change in the years ahead.
The CIO: What Is it?
The skillset of a CIO includes the ability to see big picture while also paying attention to the details. Typically, a CIO is responsible for strategic and operational leadership of the firm’s information technology capabilities, organization, and infrastructure while communicating information technology goals and objectives to firm leadership, lawyers, and business professionals.As the title suggests, information is at the crux of the CIO’s responsibilities, but it also means turning plans into action.“The CIO acts as an advisor and partner to professional business leaders, practice leaders, and firm management to advance improvements in efficiency and effectiveness through automation and other innovations,” Lepiesza said. “They ensure that information security controls, policies, operations, and training align with industry best practices while developing, implementing and driving technology strategies.”
Q: CIO searches are on the rise. Why?
Clients are always looking for exceptional CIO talent, but in some cases – going back to the onset of COVID-19 and the resultant transformational efforts firms have gone through – executives in those roles had put off retirement, resulting in fewer vacancies until more recently.
Q: What other factors are at play?
With the CIO role in the spotlight even more than usual, we have seen an increase in CIO promoted into Chief Operating Officer roles, or other broader-based firm leadership roles, as they have had a chance to demonstrate critical business leadership expertise, and showcase the value, and strategic and operational impact they have had with their firms.
Q: How is the CIO role changing?
The CIO role has significantly evolved over the years from a narrower, functional management position to a true strategic business partner leadership role. Especially since the onset of COVID-19, and the transformational shift virtually every firm has gone through in deploying new remote and hybrid work-models, the CIO role has been “in the spotlight” even more than usual and been a key lynchpin and driver in enabling firms’ successful adaptation.
Q: What are firms seeking when engaging The Alexander Group to search for CIO positions?
Checking all the functional boxes is still critically important – demonstrated success managing information technology strategy/roadmaps, security, applications, network infrastructure, telecommunications, system integrations, support, training, etc. But top-tier Chief Information Officers go beyond that – as business leaders first and functional technology leaders second. They necessarily develop a broad and deep understanding of firmwide, practice, sector, and regional strategies; the firm’s market and competitive position; and drive the alignment of its information technology capabilities to enable its market, revenue, and profitability growth.
Q: There’s been an uptick in CIO searches. Why?
Clients are always looking for exceptional Chief Information Officer talent, but in some cases – going back to the onset of COVID-19, and the resultant transformational efforts firms have gone through – executives in those roles had put off retirement, resulting in fewer vacancies until more recently. And as previously mentioned with the Chief Information Officer role in the spotlight even more than usual, we have seen an increase in Chief Information Officers promoted into Chief Operating Officer roles, or other broader-based firm leadership roles, as they have had a chance to demonstrate critical business leadership expertise, and showcase the value, and strategic and operational impact they have had with their firms.
Q: How do you see this role continue to evolve in law/professional firms?
Moving forward on the strategic versus operational continuum, the Chief Information Officer role will naturally be expected to be a key member of strategic leadership rather than just functional leadership. From a transformational perspective, many firms are engaged at some stage and depth of migration to the cloud, exploring Artificial Intelligence capabilities, new big data analytic tools, and other ways to leverage the firm’s information technology resources to drive business, revenue, and profitability growth. The information security threat landscape continues to become more complex and precarious, and the Chief Information Officer’s fiduciary and guardian responsibilities will correspondingly increase. And as always, maintaining a keen understanding (and practical assessment) of new innovations and trends and helping to guide firms appropriately into the future.