From System Administrator to CEO: The Changing Role of IT Directors


As businesses increasingly rely on technology, the role of IT directors has evolved to include strategic planning and leadership. Balancing operational responsibilities with pursuing growth opportunities is a challenge for CIOs, but research shows that prioritizing strategic initiatives can lead to increased profitability and business growth. In this article, we explore what types of skills are essential for IT leaders nowadays.

IT directors are in charge of both maintaining the operational stability of the business and implementing strategic initiatives. Protecting the company from critical infrastructure disruptions remains at the core of the CIO's responsibilities. However, the IT director should also engage in strategic planning and support business growth and the same time. Thus, striking a balance between handling operational issues and implementing strategic initiatives is critical for their professional success.

Juggling as a mode of thinking

CIOs face the challenge of balancing their operational and strategic responsibilities, and must effectively communicate the equal importance of both to their team and the business. This requires flexibility and the ability to seamlessly switch between modes of thinking.

This process could be easily called "juggling". Shifting focus regularly, CIO may spend 40% of their time on technical responsibilities and the rest on collaborating with colleagues, working with clients or partners, and managing non-technology business opportunities such as ESG and customer experience. "As a business partner, the CIO will take an active role in creating commercial value for the company and contributing to increased profits”, says Abdulaziz Sattarov, a member of the Board of UniversalBank. 

However, this can be complicated by various issues like talent shortages, economic pressures, outdated mindsets, imperfect IT infrastructure, and funding limitations.

Despite these challenges, research shows that CIOs who prioritize seeking out new growth opportunities tend to achieve higher levels of profitability and business growth.

An example of how CIOs can balance their operational and strategic responsibilities is by keeping up with current technological developments and trends. This knowledge can help them identify new digital business opportunities and work closely with customers, whether external or internal, to create solutions that meet market demands.

Managing a digital enterprise

As the modern market demands IT directors with strong organizational and management skills, they are often expected to have leadership qualities on par with CEOs. This has turned IT directors into top managers who understand the impact of technology on business performance and offer effective solutions.

Abdulaziz Sattarov confirms the evolving role of IT directors: "In the late 2010s, there was a noticeable qualitative shift in the assessment of the role of CIOs. Almost all the IT directors, I knew, turned from executors into managers: they entered the top management of companies or became business owners themselves.”

With increasing investments in information security, AI technologies, and data analysis, IT directors must act faster and delegate tactical processes to other departments while scaling digital solutions throughout the organization. Working at this level, the IT director becomes a technology guide for the entire enterprise.

“Economic efficiency was put at the forefront. We began to think about how to ensure quality management, speed up Time to Market for new products, and achieve optimal return on investment. Today, the IT director requires the highest professional level and a deep understanding of the basics of business," says Sattarov.

IT Director as a Business Partner for Transformation

As businesses undergo technological transformations, IT directors are also pushed to develop their strategic thinking skills. Abdulaziz Sattarov notes, "It's crucial to understand how digital technologies impact individual processes and the business as a whole. In the near future, we should focus on digital services that deliver quick results. In the long term, digital transformation may be possible if it's strategically justified."

To establish new business practices and maintain corporate culture, CIOs must combine their technology expertise with a business-oriented perspective. Ultimately, the success of investing in technology hinges on justifying the benefits it brings to the company.

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