Four ways CIOs have to take charge of digital transformation

The digital revolution is in full swing and IT systems and technology have become an integral part of modern day businesses, helping improve the efficiency of their operations in order to achieve higher profitability.

As companies strive to utilise available technology, they are turning to their CIOs to take charge of this digital transformation, to prevent them falling by the wayside.

Recent research, however, shows that many companies are falling short of expectations. While the majority of business executives believe that they are well on their way on the path to transformation, IT professionals believe that the process is only just beginning, with many stating that it has not even started within their company.

This worrying lack of alignment between IT teams and business leaders requires immediate attention if companies wish to stay ahead in the race for digital transformation. The courageousness of the CIO will play a significant role in achieving this alignment, and realising digital expectations.

> See also: How the CIO of the year transformed technology at the Financial Times – and will she do the same as Rebekah Brooks’ new CTO? 

It’s time for a re-evaluation of the role of the CIO in order to deliver the new approaches to innovation required by businesses. Success sometimes requires an approach that challenges the traditional ways of thinking.

Challenge traditional roles to stimulate a new culture of innovation

Within a typical organisation, the IT team will undoubtedly be spending the majority of their time on routine maintenance tasks. While it is necessary, these tasks are carried out in order to keep things running smoothly, it is not necessarily the best use of time for the in-house experts and could be seen as a hindrance to innovation and successful transformation.

Many organisations will cite lack of resources or financial restraints as reasons behind their slow digital growth, but the ability to innovate faster as a response to digital disruption is less about budget and more about creating a culture of innovation.

Larger enterprises would do well to take a look at the tactics used by today’s start-ups, open-source, and crowd-funding organisations. With their bi-modal approaches, there will be resources dedicated to funded and approved projects in the business – but there is also often a culture where people work on ideas simply because they’re passionate about them.

Focus should be put on the tasks that change business outcomes and disrupt competitors. It is worth considering re-scoping IT professionals’ jobs: The roles should be made to be more enticing to the problem solving nature of IT professionals.

It may prove to be of benefit to enlist the services of outsourcing and managed services providers so that the experts can concentrate on higher-level tasks. It’s important to look at the full range of tasks to determine which require in-house staff and which may be done by outsiders with greater cost-efficiency.

Encourage c-suite collaboration

A common complaint made by IT departments is that they are too often left out of planning discussions held by business stakeholders. CIOs need to make a conscious effort in strengthening these relationships and creating greater cross-functional collaboration.

Ultimately, in order to achieve the desired digital goals, the C-level executives need to be on board. CIOs need to drive home the need for change and engage in dialogue with business partners so these visions can be communicated to employees at all levels of the company.

IT leadership is paramount in conveying this vision. Careful planning and roadmaps outlining the transformational journey, both short-term and long-term, are needed. The successful execution of these plans requires continued cooperation from business and IT teams.

By requesting direction and feedback from the C-Suite, and by being evaluated against business-based metrics, CIOs can demonstrate whether they are meeting expectations and how effectively the digital strategy is being executed.

Grasp the big opportunity with big data

The volume of data that the typical organisation deals with has grown exponentially over the last ten years and will continue to grow. CIOs are under increasing pressure to provide the necessary tools and processes to enable a big data strategy for their businesses, which will allow the capture of new insights and market opportunities.

This can be a very daunting task, and analytics are often seen as an intimidating, insurmountable web of mystery in which no one knows what they’ll find until the data has been unravelled.

Instead, they should be approached with a specific outcome in mind, for example, to improve quality or efficiency, or to reduce cost or risk. By tackling big data in this fashion it can help identify the information needed, as well as where to gather it and how it will fit in with the business.

Big data should be seen as an opportunity that can empower an organisation and enable better business decisions to be made. By collecting, storing, and processing information and bringing cloud, networks, and security together to create a hybrid IT environment, a fundamental change can be made in the way the firm operates, and steer the transformative journey expected by the stakeholders.

Cyber security as a number one priority

A cyber attack can have grave implications on a company’s finances and reputation. The growth in data being dealt with by companies equates to a growth in the threat of cyber attack.

This, combined with the growing sophistication of cyber criminals, means that, over time, a security incident is inevitable. The CIO needs to have the courage to accept this fact and plan accordingly. No longer can cybersecurity be viewed as a ‘lock and key’, focused only on keeping threats out.

The unstructured nature of big data, however, can make IT staff uneasy – it is not ‘tagged’ to a specified risk category, its value to the business is not yet clear, and there is a higher risk that it may contain malicious content.

Despite this, CIOs shouldn’t let security-related apprehension get between their big data ambitions – there are, in fact, ways in which data can be protected and this discussion should be a part of the digital strategy from the get-go.

CIOs should utilise the measures and tools at their disposal that could make big data safer. This could involve file-level and database-level monitoring. However, this could create the need for greater management in order to effectively respond to the monitoring applications.

> See also: How the right thinking can inspire CIO ‘light bulb moments’

It may be necessary to turn to a third party security services provider. As long as they understand the broader effects of big data on the data centre and networking environments, and have the relevant expertise and reputation to match the organisation’s requirements, it will, almost certainly, help in the drive to bridge the digital divide in the long run.

Courage is key

It’s time for CIOs to go against the grain. They need to have the courage to reimagine traditional IT roles to foster a culture of innovation; they should champion comprehensive, cross-functional dialogue with business partners to get C-Level execs to share their IT visions, and must not be intimidated by big data and the associated security risks.

By demonstrating these acts of courage they can help their businesses get ahead of the competition in this digital era, becoming more agile, effective and successful.

Sourced from Rory Duncan, head of Security Business Unit, UK&I, Dimension Data

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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