5 tips for CIOs leading digital transformation

Digital transformation has been top of the agenda in boardrooms for some time, as enterprises reshape themselves around digital technologies.

Despite the urgency for digital change coming from the top, the majority of organisations are still lagging behind. So, who should be leading this initiative to ensure businesses pick up the pace of their digital transformations?

Executives from all business areas, including marketing, IT and even customer experience, are competing eagerly for the opportunity to be the one to lead their organisation in its digital journey and improve the value of the business. Some companies are even looking for external people to hire a ‘so-called’ chief digital officer.

>See also: Digital transformation brings new challenges for CIOs 

But, is this really necessary?

What most firms don’t realise is that they already have a CDO. They just don’t know it. Most enterprises looking for a CEO already have a CIO who is either not doing their job of embracing transformation, or they are not being recognised for it, but they should be. There is no better contender to take on digital transformation than a CIO with the right leadership skills.

Yet, only 35% of CIOs expect to lead their company’s digital transformation effort. CIOs need to speak up and seize the position of digital transformation leader. For a few very progressive CIOs, this may come easy. But for some, it will mean rethinking their approach in convincing the rest of the c-suite that they are the right person for the job, and they are.

How to make the case

Digital transformation will never be about one person. It has to be an enterprise wide effort. But, the CIO has the purview to lead this collaborative effort. They are well placed to bring together silos, such as supply chain, marketing and IT, and to collectively deliver digital capabilities.

>See also: The digital ecosystem: IT infrastructure now on CEO’s agenda

CIOs need to deliver this message loud and clear to the wider organisation. Technology is an essential resource CIOs can leverage, but it is not everything they do. The problem is that very few people realise the primary role of the CIO goes beyond IT infrastructure. The CIO’s true job is to create a superior business model.

So how can CIOs show their boards that they are the progressive thinker and leader they need to truly achieve digital transformation?

Shift the focus. It is crucial that CIOs demonstrate they can meet operational requirements and incorporate innovation into their responsibilities. For many CIOs, meeting operational requirements holds them back from focusing on the expectations of their business counterparts.

Of course, there are table stakes that CIOs must get to operationally first, so they are not continuously pulled back into pre-transformation priorities; automation and operational rigour can help on that front.

Eliminate routine work and operational problems. If the IT department continues to fall into the maintenance and upkeep trap, therefore draining resources, there is a problem. CIOs need to lead IT teams to eliminate and automate their own manual, repeatable processes.

All the routine, mundane tasks that takes up time should be automated. CIOs and their team should be focused on tackling work that requires creativity and imagination, and delivers business value.

>See also: A guide for CIOs: how to drive digital business and mobility

Talk the talk. Most IT teams find it hard to communicate with business leaders. However, it is crucial to the success of the digital transformation project that CIOs learn to communicate in terms that other departments, such as marketing, customer journey, finance, or product development, understand easily.

It is important that CIOs are able to explain why something needs to change, not just how. In fact, ideally they should be able to demonstrate how coupling emerging digital technologies with business goals can deliver value for the organisation.

This skill set is what separates digital transformation leaders from the rest. CIOs need to show the C-suite that they know what drives the business, how it all fits together, and how to move the business forward.

Build the right team. CIOs who lead digital transformation need to build a balanced team with technical and collaborative skills. The digital transformation team will share some skills with IT, but this project will require a different mindset and some new skill sets.

A traditional CIO might not consider hiring a user experience team, but a progressive CIO who is in charge of transformation should. CIOs need to take the opportunity to acquire digital skills from other areas of the business.

Create capabilities. CIOs must work with the business leaders to define the outcomes they are after and become their capability provider. Enabling future capabilities requires CIOs to understand what the business needs before it knows it needs it.

>See also: Beyond technology: why every CIO needs to think like a business leader

Digital transformation is not easy. It takes time and resources, and its impact is delivered in the long term. CIOs must have perseverance and passion to be great digital transformation leaders.

Most importantly, CIOs need to demand the job and fight the current fad to hire CDOs. This transformation starts with the progressive CIO. Who better to lead the organisation through digital disruption than someone who has been leading technology transformations for ages?


Sourced by Chris Bedi, CIO, ServiceNow

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...