The role of the CIO in a digital age

It’s no great secret or revelation that all things digital such as e-commerce, mobile, cloud and social have revolutionised the way businesses operate and will continue to do so.

No business can – nor indeed should – avoid the implications, challenges and opportunities that come with embracing digital transformation.

Customers and employees alike have the web at their fingertips 24/7. Mobile technology means that people can make purchasing decisions anytime, anywhere.

In addition – using social media in particular – people are telling businesses what they want, like and don’t like, constantly.

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This not only offers organisations the potential to enhance interactions with key stakeholders, and transform customer experience but it also gives them access to an enormous amount of data, which in turn holds vital business intelligence.

The CIO role

Against this backdrop, the CIO role has grown from the more traditional ‘IT Director’ that runs the legacy business systems such as HR, Finance, ERP, CRM etc. and company infrastructure including networks, data centres, desktops and support.

In mature organisations the above mentioned are commodities and utilities and ‘just work’ as the engineering and business processes that support them have evolved over considerable time.

The IT Director is probably someone that now reports into the CIO, who in turn has been become more strategic and knowledgeable about the company processes and how they can simplify and automate them to improve customer journey experiences and services.

>See also: The changing role of the CIO and boardroom in 2017

The rate of change and adoption of consumer technology has meant that company end users have often had a better technology experience at home or even on their commute than they do in the work place and the evolution and disruption from the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon has meant that businesses, and business units have been able to adopt and use their own technology outside of the traditional restrictive infrastructure.

As such, the CIO role has been challenged by the unabated rate of change of consumer ‘digital’ technology and the automation opportunities that digital technology offers has caused huge disruption to virtually every industry, be that agriculture, printing, manufacturing, banking or media.

The CIO is now expected to be an expert in user experience, security, customer centricity, journeys and behaviours.

They are storytellers, evangelists and advocates of communicating the art of the possible, they are the voice of the customer (along with their marketing and product peers) and their role is far more commercial than reducing costs. Indeed, modern ‘IT’ functions also generate revenue as well as drive margin.

They are ‘schizophrenic chameleons’…on the one hand grounded in strong engineering and process orientation skills and are champions of best practice and on the other they are risk takers, innovators, change agents and disrupters of traditional working models.

In addition, they have been further challenged by the rise of the chief digital officer – who tend to be very customer focussed and have come about because of executive perception of legacy IT and a misunderstanding about what ‘being Digital’ really is…. in reality the best CIOs could equally be CDOs.

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Part of the problem is that many organisations have been unsure where digital sits within a business. Due to its nature, it is something that can as easily fall under a marketing director’s remit as a CIO’s.

Of course, as alluded to above, some have gone down the route of appointing a CDO or similar. Yet to merely find a ‘home’ for digital and consign it there is to underestimate its pervasive nature.

Smart businesses and indeed CIOs appreciate that digital now affects nearly every aspect of an organisation, at all levels, and that it is not something that can be seen solely as a technology issue or solved by merely creating an app. Digital isn’t a box to be ticked and then ignored, nor is it a ‘nice to have’.

It is a way to transform business operations for the better – and if you’re not treating it as such you can bet your life your competitors are.

Today’s CIOs also need to be mindful of the key challenge for businesses of adopting and embracing the new ways of working and the non-traditional business models that a digital approach brings.

To really benefit from digital, businesses need to learn to work in new ways and need CIOs who not only understand how digital can transform a business, but also communicate that and affect change across an entire organisation.


Sourced by Chris Underwood, managing director, Adastrum Consulting

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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...