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How the CIO rose to the occasion in 2020

A prioritised digital strategy is nothing new to modern organisations. As far back as early 2019, I came across a bold statement in Forbes magazine. The article asked the question whether digital transformation would be upending the C-suite? Would it bring about new corporate titles and functions such as the Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Officer and threaten the existence of the Chief Information Officer (CIO)?
How the CIO rose to the occasion in 2020

I was at odds at first with the author envisioning that, at face value, these new roles would pose an existential threat to the existing role of the CIO. Even then the genuine realisation was that technology would not just be a resource within a business model to adapt, or an aspiration for organisations to transform towards.

Dial forward to the end of 2020 and many organisations experienced a landmark year, unlike any other. One where sudden digital transformation was required for the immediate survival in some organisations, and one of the only certain requirements in unchartered waters.

Successful digital transformation means that technology is ingrained in an organisation’s business model and processes, rather than technology being retrofitted to a business model that had relevance 10 years ago. These resulting alignment between business strategy and technology translates into scalability and agility which helped organisations react, recover and even thrive during 2020. The leadership from a CIO is key in facilitating such an alignment.

Transformation of the CIO

Digital change is creating entirely new occupations and jobs, while expanding – not replacing – existing ones like the CIO. The CIO charter has expanded into a role resembling an organisational oracle, if I can call it that.

What’s more is, the way in which the charter of the CIO expanded during the 2020 digital transformation era has quite a few unique facets to its evolution.

Firstly, it was the CIO role that was responsible for ensuring that entire workforces could abruptly adapt to a work-from-anywhere model.

Secondly, business models expanded digitally out of necessity to reach new markets under lockdown scenarios.

Thirdly, and as if the pandemic hasn’t caused enough change, legislation in the form of the Protection of Personal Information (POPIA) saw its commencement date announced. By law organisations are now required to protect personal information against data breaches and misuse.

Hiring a particular set of skills

The CIO in 2020 and beyond would need to have a very particular set of skills. It is understandable that it would be no small accomplishment to find everything on the spectrum that the charter of the ideal CIO would require today, at this very moment, and encapsulated in just one person.

The skills needed to orchestrate the many different moving parts are best found in the talents of a consulting CIO – essentially a team that brings together all the particular skills to facilitate and project manage the practical change alignment between business strategy, technology, legal and compliance. Balance that with an expert and diverse team that is experienced enough to be trusted by leadership to bring strategic insight to the decision-making table.

When organisations hire the right set of skills to offensively (not defensively) facilitate digital change, it can free up leadership’s time to shift gears for a more prosperous and sustainable future.

A luxury to SMMEs becomes a non-negotiable

Today the CIO should not be considered a luxury any longer when SMMEs have so much to navigate – and to lose – when it comes to managing technology and information in order to scale and grow.

A consulting CIO solution allows small to medium businesses to gain access to a skill set that they normally wouldn’t be able to afford. A consulting CIO fee also comes in at a much lower cost to company for the duration of the project, compared to hiring a full-time resource. For instance, according to PayScale the average annual salary of a CIO is R1 220 180. SMMEs can avoid the costs and often lengthy-time period associated with the hiring process.

Technology plays a pivotal role in driving cost efficiency. It improves automation and expands digital channels to maximise customer outreach. However, small business owners make the mistake of doing this on their own and, eventually, hire externally. More often they end up hiring inexperienced IT managers who are mostly providing support without key strategic and behavioural competency areas to be able to function on both a strategic and operational level.

Legislatively pre-compliant

An interesting event unfolded in July 2020 amid lockdown. POPIA legislation required organisations to appoint and register an Information Officer. We are currently in a one-year grace period allowing organisations to prepare. In terms of the draft Guidelines on the Registration of Information Officers, not only must the Information Officer be appointed by every organisation, but this role must be registered with the Information Regulator before they can take up their duties in terms of POPIA and the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

The draft provides further insight into who should be registered and the registration process; its duties and designation of authority; instances when this role may be criminally liable in terms of PAIA and training of Information Officers and Deputy Information Officers.

When organisations appoint a consulting CIO already registered accordingly, the approach smooths out many of the above-mentioned steps and provides clarity upfront.

An empowering change facilitator

Far from being an entity that incorrectly might be perceived as responsible for merely moving the organisation into the cloud, the consulting CIO’s charter is much more involved than ever before. This consultant works best in a phased and long-term approach, which includes assessment of gaps and needs, aligning strategy with digital needs, piloting change and facilitating broader digital behavioural change.

A multiskilled consulting CIO team with a broad experience level such as Kriel & Co in partnership with legal team ENSafrica has a broad top-line overview of the entire organisation. We can skilfully gain deeper qualitative insight into the full organisational needs by way of qualitative analysis. This approach also includes a once-off identification of the legal or compliance-related gaps with the POPIA.


In conclusion, an extraordinary consulting CIO is able to facilitate digital change on a strategic level while ultimately empowering leadership, management and employees throughout the entire journey.

Driving transformation in phases and by having the right skill set and experience level gives any organisation in 2020 and beyond the best chance to ‘empower-up’ and future-proof its foundation for maximum business impact.

About Francois Kriel

Francois Kriel, change management consultant at Kriel & Co.
Kriel  & Co
Francois Kriel is an IMCSA accredited management consultant with change management and digital transformation as specialisation areas. He works full-time as director at Kriel & Co where he leads a dynamic team currently facilitating digital change at several high-profile organisations. Francois also supports Stellenbosch University as guest lecturer to business management honours students. He is an advocate for collaborative leadership, mentorship and LGBTQI+ inclusivity.

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