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November 9, 2015

The CIO: Five steps to being a digital leader

List: Stephen Eveleigh, Director at Colt, looks at the ever-changing role of the CIO.

By Vinod

The role of the C-suite is changing. Analysts estimate that by 2017, the chief marketing officer (CMO) could be spending more than the CIO on IT purchases.

IT departments will be looking to take back ownership of IT budgets, setting the stage for the CIO to take a leadership role in digital transformation across all areas of the business.

In this era, the gap between what is expected of IT departments and what they can deliver on flat budgets is only going to grow. Consequently the role of the IT organisation needs to change to enable the business transformation needed for the new digital economy.

IT leaders’ success in their careers is also on the line. A recent study shows that with the rise of the digital economy and development of IT into a strategic function, IT professionals define their career success more from pivotal moments than day-to-day activity.

And the link between ‘moments that matter’ and personal success is even stronger for IT leaders who perceive themselves as ‘exceeding expectations’ in their role. To avoid being left behind in the transformational journey, CIOs are recognising that they need to change how they operate.

According to Gartner, CEOs still view CIOs as the obvious people to lead digital innovation – but that can only happen if the CIO focuses less on pragmatic, day-to-day operational matters and more on helping the business take strategically calculated risks.

The more the CIO can find ways to carve away budgets for things such as pilot projects and technology experiments that could drive revenue down the line, the better chance they have of fulfilling the CEO’s expectations and leading digital transformation.

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What’s in store for the CIO?
With the perception that traditional IT services are becoming easier to procure directly, most CIOs are recognising the risk that they could be seen as less relevant. To tackle this misconception, already 75% of global CIOs recognise they need to adapt their leadership style in the next three years.

Here are the five steps CIOs need to take in order to maintain their relevance and become a leader of digital transformation in the business:


1. Improve peer-to-peer relationships

To aid the business in its journey towards digitisation, the CIO needs to demonstrate they fully understand their business, inside and out. Communicating and working better with their peers will enable them to gather more information about their pain points, how they’re using technology to do their jobs and ideas they have about how technology could be used. Key relationships to consider include the CMO, CTO and chief digital officer, if such a role exists in the organisation.


2. Experiment more often

As VMware CTO, Joe Baguley, recently put it, if the CIO wants to "be part of the future, not the furniture", they will need to challenge outdated assumptions about priorities in technology investments. While legacy IT technology still needs to be functional, the CIO must find more ways to embed cloud, mobile, social and big data into existing business processes.


3. Challenge the view of IT as a cost centre

The recent economic downturn has forced CIOs to focus on improving IT operational efficiency and doing more with lower or flat budgets. But CIOs leading digital transformation should start seeing IT as a means of revenue generation. To achieve this, they must analyse how platforms and systems currently being used are driving business benefits. Help from the finance department may come in useful here. IT performance metrics will also need to be redrawn and agreed to understand the value being generated from IT for new and existing projects.


4. Adjust your leadership style

As the CIO delves into technology experimentation and value-driven IT initiatives, it’s going to take more leadership effort to conceive, execute and perfect these actions. But some CIOs are spending more time on service delivery, which makes dedicating time to visionary activities more challenging. Spending time running IT needn’t be reduced, but it should be delegated from the CIO, which will allow them to focus on leadership and forward-looking strategies. Only once this has happened, can they focus on helping translate how technology relates to business processes and profitability.


5. Learn to speak business, not tech

With all the above actions in mind, we need to remember the importance of good communication. Aside from communicating to the board, the CEO and other business stakeholders, the CIO needs to evaluate the language they’ll use when interacting with them. It should be a similar style to that being used by the business, avoiding technology jargon which may hinder the CIO’s attempts to be seen as a digital leader. The clearer they can communicate their visions, the more the C-Suite and other stakeholders will see the CIO as a trusted advisor, rather than the ‘IT guy’.


It’s no longer enough to deliver more efficient and effective internal processes – instead the CIO is expected to instigate disruptive change with technology-led new services and business models. To do this, CIOs need to make the shift from being engineering specialists, to change managers, relationship builders and idea generators.

Changing these traits won’t be easy, but if the CIO wants to be at the centre of digitisation, they will have to work on building these new leadership skills. Becoming a digital leader will help them lead the business with technology and value and start to shift from chief information officer, to chief innovation officer.



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