Straight Talk on Project Management

Change initiation officers?

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Change Initiation Officers? How CIOs have evolved and are shaping business futures

CIOs have always been “at the wheel” when it comes to business change through IT, in this post-pandemic-AI-led era though, the CIO’s role in driving change feels to have organically boomed and flourished – or as a CIO friend modestly put it (with a smile) – “we’re no longer just at the wheel, we are the wheel”.


Businesses have always undergone transformation; sustainable growth is dependent upon it!

The demands of customers and stakeholders, shifts in markets and evolving competition have always necessitated the occasional nimble pivot or even root and branch restructure and, in recent decades, most of this transformation has naturally come through innovations in IT. CIOs were ready!

Historically though, a business would initiate a transformation programme, its people would embrace the change (hopefully) and become proficient in their “new normal” (what a PM friend calls the Adapt>Adopt>Adept cycle). In fact, the change would last long enough for the “new” to become “normal”.

Market demands are now less patient and even less forgiving, business need can change in the blink of an eye! Thankfully, technology is moving faster too, AI is changing EVERYTHING, what was cutting edge is becoming obsolete in a heartbeat (ok – it’s a double-edged sword).

According to EY’s 2021 Global Board Risk Survey, more than eight out of ten (82%) board members and CEOs declared that market disruptions have become more “frequent” and “impactful”, therefore, just to survive, let alone grow, companies are initiating strategic changes more frequently.

Thankfully, someone is still ready!! 


At Stoneseed, as a provider of “as a Service” IT Project resources, we naturally work with a lot of CIOs and we are definitely seeing an organic trend for CIOs to become even more of a catalyst for change. The CIO’s stock in the C-suite mix is in the ascendency at just about every organisation I could name, indeed one CEO told me that no business decisions are taken without first seeking the opinion of the CIO.

The State of the CIO Study 2023, which surveyed 837 IT leaders and 201 line of business participants, found that 85% of IT leaders view the CIO role as that of changemaker — with their cross-functional view of business processes and understanding of how technology can transform operations.

It stands to reason. As a CIO you are the perfect storm of exactly what organisations need to get the maximum return out of business change initiatives, namely:        

Leaderships skills;

IT Knowledge;

Business Mission and Workflow Awareness;   

People and Communication Skills.

Interestingly, that last attribute may be the cornerstone of the evolution of the CIO. For CIOs business transformation is not just about the technology, or just the business need, but about the people who will be responsible for the successful implementation of these things.

CIOs who seek to understand their parent organisation’s people (its employees, customers, suppliers and partners) are delivering the greatest value through technology led transformations. We hear it all the time with greater end-user engagement, customer satisfaction, measurably improved efficiency, employee engagement and fulfilment surveys, just about every metric leans heavily into the evolving role of the CIO.


In 2021, EY and the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School collaborated on research which found that negative emotions among workers (such as stress) increase by 25% even during successful transformations, but in underperforming transformations these increase by more than 130%.

The human factor and human emotions can be the difference between success and failure as businesses undergo more regular transformations, and the human cost of underperforming transformations can be a self-perpetuating downward spiral, with underperformance destroying morale and confidence which has no time to recover before a team must move on to the next transformative project. 

The research by EY suggests that over two thirds of senior leaders (67%) had experienced at least one under-performing transformation during the last five years.

The EY/Oxford study concluded that organisations should “pay more attention to the human factors so often identified as … root causes of transformation failure” and “consider both leaders and workers”. They identified six key drivers to this end: inspire; lead; care; empower; collaborate; build.

With their people instincts, few are better placed than the CIO for this crucial work.


As well as amazing people and communication skills, CIOs have business acumen and understanding of their business’ day-to-day workflows in spades. Change management success can depend on a business leveraging these attributes.

And … It’s one thing having this understanding on paper, the greatest returns are enjoyed when CIOs roll up their sleeves and drill down.

In a timely article for, “IT Leaders Embrace The Role Of Business Change Maker”, Beth Stackpole gives some inspiring examples of CIOs doing just this.

Robert Barrios, CIO of winemaker E&J Gallo (a business I’ve invested generously in over time!!), leads transformation projects by immersing himself in the business and cultivating a shared, collaborative mind-set.

Robert joins in sales calls, spends time observing winemakers (tough gig, right?!), attends sales and operations planning meetings and regularly spends time with supply chain groups. The result is a better understanding of workflows, mutual trust and healthier relationships that help drive organisational change.

“You can’t be an ivory tower architect,” he tells, “You have to truly understand how systems are used, how data is entered into systems, and how it’s manipulated in order to make decisions. If you are not actively doing that, you won’t be a change maker.”

He’s not alone! From Praveen Jonnala, CIO at Commscope, who leverages the decade-plus he spent in the “business ranks in manufacturing plants and product R&D functions” to clearly communicate the benefits of change, to Isaiah Nathaniel, CIO at Delaware Valley Community Health, who draws upon years of experience as an athlete to communicate team goals and not let temporary setbacks get in the way of achieving those goals, to Barrios at the winery – CIOs are increasingly viewing change management leadership as a linchpin of the CIO’s mandate. 


In conclusion, to facilitate organisational change, a new breed of CIO change leaders are evolving with “must have” robust people and communications skills, immersive knowledge of how their business works (and what it needs), and an inclination for collaboration. Many CIOs already have all this in their DNA, some traditional CIOs are playing catch up, and that’s ok, especially with “as a Service” providers like Stoneseed ready and waiting to help with just about any IT Project capability gaps!

The role of the CIO has evolved, is evolving, to meet the changes demanded by the “new” business landscape – today and whatever it looks like tomorrow.

Indeed, in this 5G, generative AI world of uncertainty – know this – your CIO will be ready.

Worth raising a glass to that.

If only we knew someone at E&J Gallo!