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

How can CIOs combine technology and business acumen to drive strategic corporate growth plans and increase market opportunities?

A CIO’s role has drastically changed thanks to the role technology is playing in the digitisation of businesses today. It’s no longer enough to understand the how, when, why and where information is disseminated throughout the organisation, but now CIOs need to understand the business as any CEO or Managing Director would.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 100% of roles in IT will require an intermediate level of proficiency in business acumen to effectively execute on the digital business strategy.

That means understanding the business, interacting with visionaries across the business, and driving a smart digital agenda. Technology will always be the foundation, but now business has to be the mind-set.

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That also means CIOs have to pivot and start helping the organisation find a competitive advantage, especially with the growing threat from challengers and nimble start-ups. Today’s economic environment requires that the CIO of the future emphasises business knowledge with technical depth, along with evangelism and leadership abilities that can be used to drive strategic corporate growth plans and increase market opportunities.

What this means in practice is that CIOs need to develop a new skill set that extends further than running a great IT organisation. They need to drive revenue and contribute to bottom-line goals and company growth. There are four main areas that a CIO needs to “upskill” to become a more effective leader within its organisation.

Build partnerships across the business

It might seem obvious that strategic partnerships are essential for any role. However, for a CIO, it is key to help generate business value from key digital initiatives. For example, partnering with other C-suite executives gives the CIO visibility into their departments and helps the CIO get buy-in to digitise business efforts.

The CIO should figure out how to map the digital strategy to what these leaders are doing and then, in collaboration with them, adapt and improve the strategy to continuously meet business requirements.

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The thinking should be about how technology can improve the leaders’ efforts in a way that will provide demonstrable benefits, such as major savings, new revenue opportunities, or competitive advantages.

Become a business advisor, not just a technical one

The CIO lens is generally internally focused, advising on what technology employees and stakeholders need to be more productive and operate a support function. As technology plays a more critical role in the success of the business, CIOs need to shift to an advisory role where they’re guiding the digital transformation of the entire business – not just the tools and infrastructure people use daily.

Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda survey found that less than 40% of the respondents are overseeing their company’s digital transformation efforts, while more than 60% of CIOs are taking more of a back seat.

With technology transforming every industry from automotive to hospitality, CIOs cannot afford to be idle participants. Business leaders do not have the knowledge needed to effectively drive digital change.

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A report from Wipro Digital found that nearly half of executives believe there is a lack of knowledge as to what the term ‘digital transformation’ actually means.

Only a CIO with business acumen can execute on a digital leadership strategy that will make the business more efficient but also actually create new, profitable digital channels. It’s about reaching a higher level of maturity as a business partner, change agent or transformation leader.

Evangelise: communicate your vision to the wider organisation

It’s no secret that great communication is not often synonymous with IT leaders, in the same way it is with CEOs. However, in order to drive transformational change across the business, CIOs need to step outside of their traditional comfort zone and figure out how to evangelise key IT initiatives to the rest of the organisation.

It’s about shifting employees’ perceptions of IT as just a support function to a driver of digital innovation across the enterprise and ensuring everyone understands how it will impact them individually.

The CIO has the power to create a new digital-first culture and frame the narrative around how these digital initiatives support the wider business goals. It might require hiring new talent or building a team of data scientists, API developers and business analysts to help spark and drive innovation across the business.

Developing a customer-first mentality

Lastly and potentially most importantly, CIOs need to take a customer-first approach to the organisation’s digital business strategy. That means considering how technology is used outside the company walls.

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Typically, CIOs have supported the efforts of others who interact with customers, but to deliver on transformational goals, it’s critical to learn how to engage directly. Think about taking a traditionally offline business online, any change has to start with the customer experience in mind.

Every great CIO’s strength lies in their ability to change and adapt. That’s why the demands of this new world order won’t be a reinvention but a reaffirmation of the CIO’s place as a visionary, digital strategist, and a key driver of business growth.


Sourced by Dan Beck, SVP at Workday

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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...

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