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Rebranding IT for the modernized IT mission – CIO

A 1958 Harvard Business Review article coined the term information technology, focusing their definition on rapidly processing large amounts of information, using statistical and mathematical methods in decision-making, and simulating higher order thinking through applications. That definition was well ahead of its time and forecasted the current era’s machine learning and generative AI capabilities.
Despite that prescience, and the flexibility of information technology as a term, many today argue that calling the CIO’s organization “information technology” or “IT” has lived its course. After all, many C-suite leaders and employees have an outdated impression of what IT departments do today, which may undermine the CIO’s digital transformation, change management, and other strategic objectives.
“We have to get away from the keep-the-lights-on mentality and that IT is just there to provide laptops, mobile phones, and support the service desk,” says Martin Davis, CIO and managing partner at Dunelm Associates.
Davis shares this sentiment with other CIOs seeking a seat at the executive table, a change in reporting structure, or, at the very least, recognition beyond IT’s fundamental run-the-business operations responsibilities.
One way IT leaders convey this transformed mission is to alter the CIO title. I know some CIOs who’ve opted for titles such as CITO (chief information and technology officer) or similar. Others have stepped up to earn “CIO-plus” roles, with a string of new titles appended to the CIO baseline. In a recent CIO.com article, Esther Shein asked whether the CIO title has run its course — to which I replied, “The CIO title works fine as most executives recognize the CIO as the head technology executive, but what’s evolved are the expectations of the role, which was originally grounded in IT operations.”
Another approach I recommend is to rebrand IT and recast its mission to modernize its objectives, organizational structure, core competencies, and operating model. CIOs successful in rebranding and delivering new capabilities can avoid the board’s or CEO’s perceptions that IT is only a service-oriented cost center. One reason CEOs restructure new digital, data, AI, or experience departments with separate C-level leaders is if IT is underperforming and the CIO isn’t driving transformation.
“Every department I’ve taken control of, I have rebranded on day one before getting into the details,” says Joe Puglisi, former CIO and now investor, advisor, and board member. “It should be BT for Business Technology, and I emphasized that the B comes before the T. It sends a signal inside the department to stop focusing on the wires in the wall and start thinking about the business. It broadcasts to the rest of the company that there’s a new sheriff in town and that we are all about the business and not just focused on technology for the sake of technology.”
Similarly, Davis prefers the name Business Solutions Group or BSG. I, on the other hand, prefer the Digital and Transformation Department. We can debate the department’s new name, but we can’t ignore the fact that substantive changes to the delivery model are required. Tyler James Johnson, co-founder and CTO of PrivOps, says, “If we’re rebranding, unless we’re also transforming, then all we’re doing is putting lipstick on a pig.”
Rebranding IT requires redefining the mission, goals, and operating principles. What that means differs by company, and here are a few questions to consider on what the brand and mission should address depending on business objectives:
These objectives are not new but go beyond IT’s traditional operating responsibilities. Rebranding and recasting IT’s mission can be a major step for CIOs who want to expand people’s views of IT and the number of departmental leaders enthusiastically supporting transformation.
“Renaming IT isn’t merely cosmetic; it demands a genuine shift in purpose,” says Dr. Mahesh Juttiyavar, global CIO of Mastek. “Successful rebranding hinges on confident, transparent communication that ensures buy-in across all organizational levels. Recasting the mission requires a steadfast commitment to retaining top talent, fostering transformational leadership, and nurturing the careers of digital trailblazers.”
At a recent Coffee with Digital Trailblazers event that I host on Fridays at 11 am ET, we debated not if but when and how top CIOs should rebrand and recast IT’s mission. Puglisi, Davis, and I rebranded IT departments when we assumed new CIO roles early in leading digital transformations.
But PrivOps’ Johnson felt differently, saying, “We need to deliver quickly, rebrand, and engage at the same time. I’ve seen many times where folks in IT don’t listen to the business because they think they know better.”
Joanne Friedman, PhD and CEO of Connektedminds, takes a pragmatic approach to IT rebranding. “Before we rebrand, we need to reposition and ensure that everybody understands that what’s changed is experimentation, innovation, and not just the technology but how it’s applied, which is actually more important than the technology itself.”
One thing we agree with is that CIOs should avoid rebranding when IT is underperforming and there’s low satisfaction from leaders and employees around basic technologies and services. CIOs looking to rebrand should start these efforts by meeting with key stakeholders, leaders of departments that heavily rely on IT, and employees who are technology enthusiasts to learn where IT needs improvements and where there are opportunities to deliver new capabilities.
Surveying employees regularly and measuring employee satisfaction (Esat) is also a best practice. Without this data, it’s risky for CIOs to take on a rebranding effort.
Top CIOs fix what’s broken and show IT is improving before taking on the challenge of rebranding their departments and recasting the mission. Once key issues are addressed, CIOs look for signs that business leaders are ready to partner and start rebranding efforts early into their transformation roadmaps. Below are three key steps in the rebranding process.
“Start with the C-level team and say, ‘This is what we’re doing, this is why we’re doing it, and this is how that impacts you,’” says Davis. “Provide tangible steps to improve the organization, target at least one key pain point, and identify several quick wins.”
The C-suite team may see IT rebranding efforts as a distraction from operational responsibilities or innovation opportunities, especially those less versed in transformation and change management challenges. CIOs must test rebranding efforts with their peers, and one way to gain alignment is to share objectives and key results (OKRs) tied to recasting the mission and its impact on the business.
“We need not only the support of those people as stakeholders but also as champions, and the kind that pulls a thread throughout the organization that reinforces what’s coming down the pike,” says Friedman. “Communicate why the change is happening, what value people will glean from it, and create a quiet buzz that fuels enthusiasm and excitement.”
A best practice is to include a recurring communication strategy, so executives see rebranding as not a one-and-done activity. As IT departments often struggle with communications, illustrating to executives how the rebranded department’s communications reflect business strategy and outcomes can be a meaningful way to demonstrate a key change in its approach.
In a rebranded IT department, it’s key for technology staffers to understand how their work impacts business objectives, customers, and employees.
I know a world-class CIO who challenges her staff to reflect on how they show up for work. She frequently reminds employees that their job isn’t to code, address request tickets, resolve incidents, or perform other technology tasks. Instead, she reinforces how technology employees must understand their customer needs, communicate solutions with tradeoffs, and follow through on their agile sprint commitments.
The mindset transformation can be challenging for IT employees who love the technical aspects of the job or who have been in departments operating as order-takers for a significant part of their careers.
“Ensure that everyone in the formerly named IT department understands the new focus, the differences in ways of operating, the new departmental goals, and setting new individual objectives,” says Puglisi. “CIOs must communicate these changes clearly, effectively, and repeatedly for staffers to adapt and perform at a higher level.”
“Sending a message that things have changed is important, so technology employees recognize it’s not about continuing business as usual,” adds Davis. “Changing the department name with changes of attitude, changes of approach, and changes of delivering value can be very impactful.”
Rebranding and recasting the mission may feel overwhelming to CIOs and their leadership teams, who may fear venturing into efforts requiring marketing, organizational design, and change management skillsets. Partnering with marketing and human resources on rebranding efforts is a best practice, and seeking outside help is recommended, especially for large-scale mission recasting efforts.
However, Friedman suggests that CIOs shouldn’t fear driving culture change. She says, “It’s baby steps that need to happen because the cultural change may be looking for a catalyst, and an IT rebranding could be the catalyst that brings a culture shift across the organization. Nothing will ever change without lighting a little bit of a match under someone’s feet.”
Baby steps can come in many forms and shouldn’t be large-scale endeavors. For example, inviting stakeholders and end-users to agile sprint reviews is one way to show tangible progress while allowing technologists to get feedback. Creating a regular cadence of lunch and learns, solution brainstorming, and hackathons are ways to demonstrate a new brand and mission. Bigger steps include defining digital KPIs markedly different from IT system uptime and ticket-based metrics.
Rebranding, recasting the mission, developing trustful collaborations, and changing the culture can also impact how customers perceive the business and its brands. “CIOs or CTOs represent the brand of the company, not just the brand of their departments,” Friedman says. “They can drive cultural change by presenting the bigger picture of playing a critical role in their industries and ecosystems.”
CIOs driving digital transformation recognize that the largest hurdles come from changing people’s mindsets around how they collaborate, use technology advantageously, and leverage data in decision-making. Timing and bravely executing a rebranding and mission-recasting strategy can bring stronger collaboration with business leaders and encourage employees to be more open-minded about technology-driven change.

Isaac Sacolick, President of StarCIO, a digital transformation learning company, guides leaders on adopting the practices needed to lead transformational change in their organizations. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Isaac Sacolick and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.


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