State of the CIO, 2024: Change makers in the business spotlight – CIO

Nimesh Mehta might not have millions of followers on social media, yet he still considers himself an influencer.
The senior vice president and chief information and strategy officer at National Life Group, has spent years executing a technology roadmap to modernize the insurance company. More recently, his charter has expanded into helping the organization formulate business strategy and leading change management efforts to reinvent the 175-year company as a digital trailblazer in its field.  
For IT leaders like Mehta, it’s about more than doing IT projects right, but rather leading the business to the right projects. Instead of executing per direction of business-developed requirements, Mehta and his CIO peers are now skilled at steering their organizations to strategic initiatives that hold the most promise. As a result, today’s IT leaders cast a wider lens and wield broader influence. Case in point: Mehta, who now has the responsibility of developing National Life’s three-year enterprise strategy.
“Instead of advising on what’s possible, with the business making the decision at the end of the day, CIOs are now influencers, leading the change,” Mehta explains. “For CIOs, understanding the business is table stakes — now we’re expected to change the business, not just technology.”
Nimesh Mehta, SVP and chief information and strategy officer, National Life Group
National Life Group
The 2024 State of CIO research clearly depicts a more prominent, business-centric role for IT leadership. The survey, which canvassed 875 IT leaders and 251 line of business (LOB) participants, found that while the usual functional and transformational duties still dominate the CIO agenda, refining business strategy and leading change has become a clear mandate as organizations prepare for the next chapter where the convergence of data, analytics, and emerging AI technologies wholly transform the business.
Thirty-five percent of respondents to the 2024 State of the CIO now identify as strategic CIOs with almost half (49%) expecting to play that role over the three-to-five-year horizon. Overall, CIOs continue to gain stature as a strategic advisor to the business with three quarters of IT leaders and 78% of LOB respondents confirming CIOs have increased visibility within the larger organization. Almost half (48%) of IT leaders and 41% of LOB respondents look to the CIO to proactively identify business opportunities as well as for making technology and provider recommendations. A smaller number (16% of IT leaders and 11% of LOB) sought out CIO consultation to help evaluate and advise on choices using a risk management or governance lens.  
Foundry / CIO.com
Even the IT organization as a whole is being recast to be more business driven: Forty-three percent are automating business and IT processes, 32% are implementing AI applications, and 29% are making data more available as part their business-centric charter.
As the CIO role becomes even more digital and innovation focused — called out by 88% of this year’s respondents — IT leaders are being recognized for actively leading digital transformation efforts more so than their peers (87%). Twenty-eight percent of respondents said the CEO’s No. 1 objective for them this year was to lead digital business and digital transformation efforts, up from less than a quarter (23%) last year. With technology and digital strategy interwoven into every aspect of modern business, CIOs increasingly have the CEO and board of directors’ ear, cited by 79% of respondents to the 2024 State of the CIO survey.
Deepa Soni, CIO, The Hartford
The Hartford
“My mission is to create differentiation for our business through use of technology and data,” says Deepa Soni, CIO and head of technology, data, analytics, and cyber at The Hartford. In a recent restructuring, The Hartford further expanded Soni’s role, combining technology and operations functions under her stewardship to advance business strategy and drive a growth agenda. “We’re not just doing digitization and AI and machine learning in a piecemeal way,” she adds. “We have to think big and be a lever for bold ideas.”
The push for innovation requires a steady hand, and CIOs are stepping in to provide guidance, including orienting the greater enterprise to the potential — and the pitfalls — of new technologies like AI. Eighty-five percent of respondents to the 2024 State of the CIO survey view the CIO as a critical change maker and a much-needed resource given the pace and scale of change, amplified by the frenzy around AI.
Foundry / CIO.com
“With all the hype of AI and the velocity at which technology is evolving, my focus as a CIO continuously and relentlessly has to be through the lens of strategy, execution, and culture,” says Sanjeev Saturru, CIO at Casey’s, the third-largest convenience store chain in the United States. “Every time someone says I need this or can you solve this for me, it comes back to doing a strategic assessment, … because if you apply technology to a bad process, you get a bad result,” he explains. “It consistently requires a lot of change management, including the right level of engagement and collaboration with business stakeholders.”
Even as their business-centric mandate takes shape, CIOs remain caught in the delicate balancing act of juggling the demands of innovation with the need for operational excellence — a challenge cited by three quarters of respondents and consistent with the 2023 State of the CIO results.
Sanjeev Saturru, CIO, Casey’s
“For us, modernization and innovation are not sequential,” says The Hartford’s Soni. “While we’re modernizing and putting new technologies in at scale, my focus is on identifying and building new business models, including how we can compete more effectively with gen AI.”
Similar to how pandemic-era shifts to hybrid and remote work models thrust the CIO role in the spotlight, the current AI gold rush is creating yet another moment for IT leaders to shine.
The 2024 State of the CIO research puts CIOs in the epicenter of AI planning and execution, from working closely with the business on formulating applications and use cases for AI (71%) to researching and evaluating where AI can be leveraged to improve the technology stack (80%). Already, AI is reshaping most organizations’ data center operations, cited by 54% of IT leaders, and the preponderance of CIOs (80%) expect to increase involvement with AI/ML efforts over the next year. Generative AI is a major focus, with more than half of IT leaders (58%) driving alignment with LOB on adoption and use of the emerging technology.
Foundry / CIO.com
Given that so much of Edward Jones’ future growth and innovation potential rests on AI, the investment company recently expanded the remit of its CIO to oversee operations and AI. The restructuring is a natural extension of the CIO charter because so much of AI’s success is predicated on data, including identifying the right sources, building the right taxonomies, creating a solid data management foundation, and establishing robust governance policies, says Frank LaQuinta, Edward Jones CIO. Oversight of operations also makes sense under the CIO, LaQuinta adds, because AI is foundational for refreshing operations, including delivering end-to-end digital experiences, creating efficiencies through automation, and enabling better risk management.
“Eighteen months ago, AI was an interesting topic, but today, if you don’t have a plan to elevate experience via AI you are behind,” says LaQuinta. “We have a maniacal focus on maximizing the contribution of advanced intelligence, supported by AI. That could be making information available at the click of a button to help advisors be more efficient with their time or to serve clients better in a hyperpersonalized way.”
Foundry / CIO.com
Just as CIOs are central to helping companies understand and identify the use cases for AI, they also must set expectations accordingly given all the hype. Educating the enterprise on what’s possible, finding the right balance of innovation and alignment to strategic objectives, building the right skill sets, and covering all the security bases are some of the ways CIOs can ensure AI success.
“People have to understand that this isn’t just something you flip a switch on and overnight you transform how you work,” says Katrina Agusti, CIO at Carhartt. “You want people to understand and innovate with emerging technology, but there’s an element of slow rolling so people understand enough about it. It’s our job to continue to educate and level-set expectations.”
Frank LaQuinta, principal and CIO, Edward Jones
Frank LaQuinta / Edward Jones
One key hurdle to scaling AI initiatives is finding the right talent. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said finding AI/ML experts is a high priority for talent acquisition over the next six to 12 months along with cybersecurity talent, at 42%. The question is whether to bring in outside expertise or upskill existing employees — or more likely, pursuing a combination of both. Either way, respondents to this year’s survey are expecting obstacles in their path. Slightly more than a quarter (27%) anticipate difficulty finding professionals with the appropriate AI/ML skills followed up by cybersecurity (26%), data science/analytics (20%), and enterprise architecture (17%).
“Driving digital transformation means bringing in some type of new talent or upgrading existing talent and establishing titles that might not have ever existed,” says Tim Dickson, chief digital and information officer for Regal Rexnord, a manufacturer of electric motors and power transmission components. To gain traction in both internal and external talent pools, CIOs should showcase how their culture encourages growth and continuous learning — something Dickson accomplishes through regular IT town halls, hackathons, and lunch and learns with vendors.
Katrina Agusti, CIO, Carhartt
“Critical talent wants to know that as a leader, you’re focused on culture and building strategy and have a vision for the organization,” Dickson adds.
As new technologies, including generative AI, democratize digital capabilities to a wider audience, CIOs also need to become more of a choreographer, fostering collaborative efforts with their business counterparts to ensure greater IT/business alignment and coordination, according to Katrina Redmond, executive vice president and CIO at Eaton, a global power management firm.
Foundry / CIO.com
On Redmond’s watch, the Eaton IT organization has begun to institutionalize greater IT/business engagement and interconnection, standing up steering committees, including those devoted to exploring use cases for gen AI. Her team is also creating mechanisms to coordinate across functions with the aim of fostering transparency and promoting AI model and data reuse, all in the spirit of reducing siloed initiatives.
“We now have partners and collaborators, which is different than in the past when we were waiting for the phone to ring and someone to tell us what to work on,” Redmond explains. “Now it’s a more collaborative, progressive environment where the C-suite is defining its destiny together. As opposed to doing ERP implementations which were led by IT in partnership with the business, now it’s business and IT coming together to bring ideas to light.”
Katrina Redmond, EVP and CIO, Eaton
Outside of Eaton, improving IT/business collaboration is also a top priority for respondents to this year’s State of the CIO research. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they spend time aligning IT initiatives with business goals while 28% devoted energy to leading change efforts and 26% to cultivating the IT/business partnership. Strengthening IT and business collaboration was a top CEO priority for CIOs, according to 27% of respondents.
In keeping with their evolving role, CIOs are spending more time on business innovation and planning. Many are mapping out multi-year enterprise roadmaps that encompass both business and technology strategy. Thirty-one percent of this year’s respondents are spending time driving business innovation compared to 24% in 2023, and developing and refining business strategy is also a major priority, 24% compared to 21% last year. Looking out to the next three years, IT leader respondents expect to devote more time to the business innovation and strategic transformation aspects of their job while easing up slightly on more functional duties like security.
Foundry / CIO.com
At Carhartt, Agusti says senior leadership now fully expects her to play an active role in strategic planning. This includes crafting an enterprise roadmap that hits the right business outcome notes all while making good on standard IT-related metrics such as operational excellence, top-notch security, and continuous improvement. With a 20-year tenure at the company, Agusti has a proven track record of driving transformational change on the technology side. Now, that credibility and institutional trust makes her well positioned to drive similar change with business strategy and for gradual expansion of her role, she says.
“There isn’t a conversation taking place in the business that technology isn’t a part of,” Agusti says. “This is the time when senior IT leaders can change the trajectory of the business, drive more profitability, or transform processes. And not just your typical incremental, continuous improvement and modernization, but things that will take the company to the next level.”

Cisco Sanchez also believes top management is looking to IT leadership to help chart the enterprise business course. Sanchez, senior vice president and CIO at Qualcomm, presented a seven-page hypothesis statement to the CEO and CFO, which laid out the contours of an enterprise business roadmap. The plan, based on input from his IT team and interactions with LOB, raised issues and possible solutions for challenges such as how to capitalize on margins or improve revenue forecasts.
Cisco Sanchez, SVP and CIO, Qualcomm
“These were not typical IT questions and answers like what software do we need or how many servers should be implemented,” he explains. “It was about how the company was evolving and what we needed to build to move forward.”
Even as business strategy and transformation efforts take up more of the CIO agenda, there is no let up on the traditional demands of keeping IT infrastructure and operations running smoothly. This year’s respondents are devoting time to security management (50%), improving IT operations and systems performance (41%), and cost control and expense management (31%). There is also an emphasis on aligning IT initiatives with business goals (35%), modernizing infrastructure and applications (36%), and leading change efforts (28%).
Foundry / CIO.com
In addition to optimization and innovation work, cyber security remains a top concern. Increasing cybersecurity protections was the top targeted business initiative this year, cited by almost half of IT leader respondents (49%) compared to only 44% last year.
The need for security improvements is one of the main factors driving IT budget increases, called out by 38% of respondents to the 2024 State of the CIO survey. Investment in emerging technologies like AI is another top factor, cited by 34% of respondents while keeping pace with the rising costs of technology and services was a driver for 35% of respondents. Overall, respondents were pretty bullish on IT funding this year: More than half (54%) are anticipating budget increases with 35% expecting their IT investments to remain the same as last year. On average, companies are reporting a 17% budget hike, slightly more than the 15% reported in the prior two years.
Devon Valencia, CIO, CareSource
With IT spending still flush and technology underpinning every aspect of business, CIOs have arrived at a pivotal point in their evolution — one they’ve been striving for for quite some time. Devon Valencia, CIO at CareSource, a nonprofit, managed healthcare organization, sees this as a catalyzing moment when the leadership team finally recognizes the magnitude of technology’s potential, opening up a floodgate of possibilities for CIOs ready to take the plunge.
“There’s no turning back the clock on AI or the CIO role or any of it,” says Valencia. “CIOs have to embrace it and have a fearlessness about them. That’s the reality of 2024.”
Beth Stackpole is a veteran reporter who has covered the intersection of business and technology issues for more than 20 years.


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