Just read a great byline piece by Irving Wladawsky-Berger in the Wall Street Journal on evaluating the modern CIO. I completely agree that the old interpretation of the CIO role (internal and operational in Irving's excellent 2x2 matrix parlance) is well understood, less and less "internal," and to some extent, less and less interesting – which is why some might assume the role is fading.
But when I was in South America last week as part of the Palo Alto Networks launch into Chile and Argentina, I had a long conversation with a “chief innovation officer” at a large bank, who was focused completely on the other three squares of the 2x2 matrix. Basically, the internal/ops stuff was a forgone conclusion, and this large Chilean bank was focused on how our products could enable many of the external strategic and external operational bits, such as: a) feeding existing banking customers the right information about new products and services at the right time; b) presenting the bank's services to prospective new customers at a time when they are most likely to transition their accounts and other financial services; and c) doing all of this through the channels that the customer is using, not that the bank dictates.
Sure, there was interest in the internal tasks associated with network security, but the illuminating thing to me was that we were having a discussion about enablement – enablement of the kinds of initiatives that will make the difference between average performance and excelling in the market. To me, this substantiates Irving's point – it requires technical knowledge in the CIO function, and re-states the strategic importance of the role – either you have somebody that can lead the disruption via technology, or you get disrupted.