Digital transformation and the evolving role of the CIO
By Gavin Selkirk February 29, 2016
- Digital business isn’t just about replacing the old with the new
- It’s become clear that it’s time to rethink the CIO role
FEW businesses have been untouched by technology. From ordering takeout to making a doctor’s appointment or keeping track of sales leads, the digitisation of business has led to the creation of new job roles and business models, and the evolution of others.
As more businesses are disrupted, chief information officers (CIOs) are faced with new opportunities to grasp and new challenges to overcome.
It’s become clear that it’s time to rethink the CIO role.
To understand how the CIO role is changing, we must first understand what CIOs do today.
At one end of the spectrum we have the traditional CIO, who reports to the chief financial officer (CFO) and views IT as a tool for saving money.
CIOs who treat IT as a cost centre face the very real and very unsettling threat of becoming marginalised if they do not change their approach.
At the other end, we have the new CIO. With a seat on the board and a clear vision for the business, this CIO is more like a traditional chief technical officer (CTO).
He or she is tech savvy and views technology as an opportunity to innovate, generate revenue, and grow the business. This is the future of the CIO role.
In the middle, we are seeing new roles created by businesses that fear they are not innovating fast enough.
One such role is the chief digital officer (CDO) role, which brings together the disciplines of IT and marketing.
Recruitment consultant Harvey Nash found that the numbers of CDOs are increasing. According to the recruitment consultants’ 2015 CIO Survey, 18% of companies surveyed in Asia Pacific had a CDO, up from the 11% in 2014.
Where are the opportunities?
Digital business isn’t just about replacing the old with the new. It is about harnessing technology to enhance every aspect of an organisation, reshaping and redefining businesses from the ground up.
This is unchartered territory for many CIOs and offers boundless opportunity for innovation.
If CIOs can break free from their ‘comfort zone’ in IT, they can add considerable value by leading innovation throughout the entire organisation.
Intelligent use of digital technology can help to generate new revenue streams, improve the work environment (in and out of the office) and the productivity of staff, while revolutionising the experience of customers.
What are the challenges?
Getting started can often be the biggest barrier to digitisation; with an almost limitless number of places to begin a digital transformation, picking an effective set of foundational projects is not without risk.
This challenge is compounded by having to maintain operational integrity of the systems already in place.
As every CIO knows, keeping critical IT systems running can be difficult and time consuming enough, without trying to innovate.
The competition for time with other urgent priorities can mean that digital transformation projects take so long to complete that by the time they are finished they are already out of date. At best, this can help to maintain the status quo, but at worst it can mean that projects are dismissed as failures.
One of the most consistently valuable places to start is in ensuring that the IT organisation itself remains relevant, accessible and the easiest to do business with.
CIOs must create a more user-friendly and intuitive experience for business users. Workers today expect IT services to be every bit as good or better than the services they can consume outside the organisation.
In this environment, CIOs must make the process of selecting and engaging with third-party technology suppliers as easy as finding and purchasing apps on the app store, hiding away all the behind-the-scenes complexity.
Realising this vision requires a gear-shift in how CIOs approach IT management. IT will need to go from being viewed as a largely technical necessity to one of the most critical strategic departments, requiring investment to build an agile, high-performance and efficient platform for innovation.
Slow, frustrating and confusing processes, unattractive and overly technical platforms, and hard-to-use applications must be swept aside in favour of a smarter, faster, and easier experience.
If CIOs do not embrace this new territory, they will struggle to win over the workforce.
Fortunately the new CIO has recognised this and is already reaping the rewards of adopting a modern, digital approach to IT.
Gavin Selkirk is president of BMC Asia Pacific.
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