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CIOs Should Lead Digital Transformation

CIOs Should Lead Digital Transformation

I've saved the best for last in this series of posts on responsive IT. In our survey of 750 business and technology leaders (around 200 from IT and the remaining 550 from other parts of the business), 42% of respondents believe the CIO is the best suited member of the C-suite to lead digital transformation. (Yes, I know this term has become overused, but this is what we're talking about, so I'll learn to live with the shame.) That's more than twice as many as chose the CEO (18%). And that number shot up to 64% when we singled out the IT respondents. This is great news for CIOs, right?

Responsive IT 3 picture

Yes, but... when we look at the responses of general managers, things are less clearly defined. While CIOs still lead at 30%, there are also strong votes for the CEO (21%), LOB leader (17%), and COO (15%). This makes sense. As digital business becomes more pervasive, it is absolutely incumbent upon non-IT leaders to understand the opportunities and threats digital represents and to do everything in their power to drive their organization's ability to compete. Some of them are becoming quite astute in this regard. It's also true that even if the CIO is responsible on a day-to-day basis to lead this transformation, not much will happen without a clearly articulated vision from the CEO.

While there was little support for having the CMO or CFO lead digital transformation, they and other functional leaders need to be at the forefront, working with the CIO to ensure they are digitizing the right things for their part of the business. This requires new levels of collaboration between IT and other parts of the business.

So, do today's CIOs have what it takes? A huge percentage of respondents - 83% - believe that digital business innovation requires a different set of skills, competencies and knowledge from running enterprise IT. And there was a big mis-match between the traits of their current CIO and the traits they believe would add the most value to the business.

CIO Traits that Add the Most Value

  1. Innovative thinking
  2. Change leadership
  3. Technical knowledge, emerging technologies
  4. Understanding of/ability to optimize business processes
  5. Ability to develop new go-to-market strategies & technologies
  6. Market/customer knowledge
  7. Technical knowledge, integrating systems
  8. Influential within the business and/or the industry
  9. Negotiating skills
  10. Risk management/security expertise
  11. Budget/finance knowledge & skills
  12. Technical knowledge, legacy systems

CIOs who want to play this leadership role must get serious about changing how they spend their time. (Bryson Koehler, CIO at the Weather Co., wrote a great piece on this.) Indeed, CIOs who lead responsive IT departments are more innovative, have greater knowledge of emerging technologies and integration, and are less focused on legacy systems than are other CIOs.

As your business becomes more digital — whatever that means for you — job 1 is to figure out how to minimize or offload the things that are not central to this transformation as quickly as possible. Only then will you have the space to focus your time and attention — and your team's — on the things that will really make a difference.

This is the third of a three-part series.

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  1. The question that lingers in my mind is how many CEOs understand the Digitization of the Enterprise and are willing to entrust the CIO with such a responsibility. I wrote the piece below in June last year; haven’t seen much change since then.

  2. Thanks, Mark – I hope all’s well with you.

  3. Interesting post, CO Inverted. I’m working on a research project right now with MIT CISR looking at how boards of directors are engaging around digital issues. They’re even further behind CEOs, but that’s starting to change. I’ll write about that in a future post.

  4. Boards are carbon dated on technology making Jurassic look good. Recent times some of the independent directors are pushing the oldies hard to let go and make way for progress. I sincerely hope that they recognize the opportunity.

  5. Abbie,
    I am in the final phase of my doctoral dissertation and I am fascinated by the future opportunities that digital technologies bring to the workplace. I found this article very insightful but I offer a counter point of view.

    Based on my research study my sources argue that Digital Transformation is an enterprise strategy which should focus on external as well as internal value. I recommend adding a revenue focus trait to the Digital Transformation Executive trait list. As a practical matter, digital transformations has to be paid for and increased sales revenue generation could offset the investment expense. Just a thought!

  6. Excellent point, John. And that is happening at many companies that lead in digital transformation. In fact, my blog post this week or next will talk about just that! Thanks for the note, and good luck with your dissertation!

  7. Munender Soperna11 Feb 2015 08:47:46

    Good blog Abbie….

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