2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey: A good time for CIOs - or is it?

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman May 25, 2016
Top findings from IT leadership poll suggest rosy outlook, but a dig down into the figures suggests a more mixed picture


It’s a very good time to be a CIO, especially a creative one. That’s the upbeat message from the authors of the 2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey.

Two-thirds of CIOs are now called upon to generate revenue, rather than simply save money. The number of women in senior IT leadership roles has risen by one-third. More CIOs report directly to the CEO than ever before - and those who do are the ‘happiest’, they declare.

But a dig down into the underlying figures reveals a rather more mixed picture, as might perhaps be expected from a poll of 3,325 CIOs and technology leaders, across 82 countries - the largest IT leadership survey in the world, according to executives at both the recruitment firm and the management consultancy.

Take, for example, that first finding: the CEO now prefers IT projects that generate revenues (according to 63% of respondents), rather than save money (37% of respondents). On the face of it, that’s good news, suggesting a hive of activity around opening up new customer channels and a flurry of successful digital marketing initiatives.

But, the report’s authors admit, that ratio has remained virtually unchanged over the past four years:

While the CEO is undoubtedly spending more time driving externally facing (and often revenue generating) projects, it’s clear that much of the role is still rooted in cost management.

Shifting priorities

There is clearly some kind of shift underway, however. From the survey’s ‘league table’ of CIO priorities, as dictated to them by the board of directors, three of the four top priorities (operational efficiencies, stable IT and saving costs) have stayed top of the list over the last ten years - but have also seen the biggest drops in importance over the last four. The priorities that have either grown in importance, or through staying relatively stable, have become more prominent on the league table, are all outward facing: better engagement with customers, revenue growth and improving business processes.

What also stands out is the fact that every single one of the priorities - with the exception of customer engagement - has become less important to the board of directors. For example, while operational efficiencies remains number one, the 57% of IT leaders who selected this option was significantly less than the 68% who selected it in 2013. Say the report’s authors:

Does this decline in traditional priorities mean then that the CIO can relax a little, safe in the knowledge that the board is asking less of them? Not at all! What we are seeing is the development of a ‘long tail’ of priorities. In the free text field of this question, respondents listed an even wider range of additional priorities the board is asking them to address, including: automation, counter-terrorism, artificial intelligence, dealing with regulation and improving agility. CIO responsibilities seem to be spilling out of their traditional technology remit.

In other words, while fewer CIOs are focused on ‘traditional’ IT priorities, they’re also shouldering a wider range of responsibilities.

Women in IT

men v women

Onwards, then, to the finding that there are more women than ever in IT leadership rules. For those hoping to see a real uplift in gender diversity, this is a bit of a damp squib. In short, female representation is getting better - but is still woefully poor. A rise of one-third in the proportion of women sounds encouraging, but it’s a rise from 6% to 9%. Dr Jonathan Mitchell, director of the CIO practice at Harvey Nash, boldly gambles a positive spin on things:

While we are starting from a low base, there is a clear direction of travel and hopefully the pace will continue to accelerate.


Finally, the news that more CIOs report to the CEO than in any time in the past does genuinely look like good news for the role. Thirty-four percent of CIOs report to the top executive, up 10% on last year. Fewer CIOs, incidentally, report to the CFO (12%), down 20% on previous years. As the report’s authors comments:

This closer working relationship between the CEO and CIO is probably a contributor to the growing strategic influence and senior decision-making that the CIO is reporting, as well as a widening portfolio of responsibility both within the core IT organisation and beyond.

And as for their happiness levels, respondents who report to the CEO claim marginally higher levels of job satisfaction than those who report to the CFO (84% say they find their role very or quite fulfilling, as opposed to 82%), and respondents who sit on the senior executive board are the most fulfilled (85%). Still, happiness aside, CIO turnover looks set to stay brisk: 22% plan to be with a new employer in the next 12 months, just a little down from 24% in 2015.