As the rise and rise of technology continues and more companies face disruption, the role of a CIO within a company is more critical than ever.

Technology leaders are increasingly involved in the decision-making process within companies and CEOs now have no choice but to be technical.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

Co-founder and COO of Okta, Frederic Kerrest, has seen first-hand the evolution of the CIO over the past decade.

“I think the CEO of ten years ago was a marketing person,” he said. “I think the CEO of ten years from now is a technologist.”

“It’s not optional anymore to understand this stuff. You don’t have to have a deep understanding of security terminology and all these types of things, but you better understand what’s happening with your technology stack.”

“Everyone has to think about how they’re going to use technology to modernise.”

But with their profile now being raised, it is now vital that CIOs have the right soft skills to balance their technical prowess.

Hitachi Americas/EMEA CIO, Ashish Sanghrajka – who oversees the regional development and execution of IT strategies for the global technology giant – said that the customer now strongly-dictates what he does.

“It’s very important to not only be a technology organisation, but also a customer-centric organisation,” he told Information Age at the Oktane19 conference in San Francisco, California.

“Our focus is not to create technology for the sake of technology, but the focus is on putting the customer at the centre.”

And this focus on customers means that Sangharjka has now had to look beyond his technical skillset and become somewhat of a “change agent”.

“A change agent and constantly looking at transforming your organisation to adapt to the pace of change in the industry,” he said.

“That’s one skill which I feel is kind of unique actually, it’s what I focus on to stay competitive – not only within the organisation but also externally.”

What do you stand for?

Sangharjka is officially the Chief Information Officer for Hitachi America Ltd.

However, in recent years it has become increasingly common for a CIO to be the Chief Innovation Officer at large companies.

Sangharjka said that innovation is in the job description, regardless of what the acronym says.

“In my role, innovation has been a core part of my function from the very beginning,” he said.

“With the pace of change in technology and every organisation becoming a technology company and every department becoming tech savvy, I think the role of innovation is more about collaboration and co-creation, rather than just sitting in an IT organisation.

“So as a CIO, basically, you’re not just a solo Innovation Officer but also a change agent within an organisation to drive and influence that as a team.”