Digital CIO: Take the Lead or be Led

Most intriguing discussions these days, be they part of the CIO conferences, boardrooms or (behind closed doors) among peers, are around digital tech, digital business and digital enterprise. This marks a tectonic shift from the classic debates, which, not so long ago, were mostly infrastructure, data centers, and application centric.


While technology still remains the centrepiece, the point I am trying to make here is that Digital isn't a choice anymore for CIOs since this has caught the attention of the CEO. It has now become a compulsion and any disobedience to this amounts to a sure disqualification of a CIO irrespective of the size, type or genre of an enterprise. 


While is making a serious effort to enable the CIO digitally and has its CIO Productivity Conclave squarely focused on how to enable businesses digitally, there is a lot that has been talked about by some very authentic sources.


I recently found a very interesting Gartner document in the public domain titled: "Flipping to Digital Leadership: The 2015 CIO Agenda." This is a summary of Gartner's Executive Programs member report.


"To grasp the digital opportunity, incrementally improving IT performance isn't enough. Enterprises and their CIOs need to "flip" from old to new in terms of information and technology leadership, value leadership and people leadership," it says.


It's true. Even if the CIOs get a hang of the so called digital technologies (popular as SMAC), they can't guarantee a digital business. They will not only have to instrumentalise a flip on tech leadership but also on value, and people - latter two being key to the decisive shift. One of the bases of this Gartner report was an extensive outreach program that reached to 2810 CIOs from 84 countries representing US$ 12.1 trillion in revenue and $US 400 billion in IT spending. I am not highlighting this to just amplify my point of view. I am underlining this to showcase the commitment towards digital which doesn't give CIO the luxury of leaving it out of their work scope. Here in India there more fluff than reality around creating a comprehensive digital business with digital culture.


Another very interesting document that I went through, though not in its entirety, was a report from EY titled Born to be Digital. This is unique. It enlists a galaxy of CIOs who are in various stages of digital transformation. This also is backed by a study of over 180 CIOs from the world over and a specific number of CIOs who further gave detailed inputs on their journey to digital.


This report mainly highlights three areas:


·      How CIOs with the widest remit and greatest responsibility -- those in highly IT-intensive industries -- differ from their peers


·      What lessons CIOs can take from their peers who are leading the digital transformation efforts -- in terms of their core tenets and mindset


·      What career choices CIOs should make to help them fulfil their aspirations for broader roles and greater influence


Now when this report underlines the fact that Digital is a major opportunity for CIOs to fulfil their career aspirations, it means that possibilities of digitally enabling their businesses align closely with their career aspirations. The CIOs who innovate and experiment with digital relentlessly surely have a bright future than those who force themselves to bring some digital flavour due to peer pressure or pressure from the top. That means, you need to volunteer and not be forced to making digital your next best career move. Either you take the lead or soon you will be led. 


While you read the above two documents, which overwhelmingly contain CIO viewpoints, grab this Video of McKinsey Director Paul Willmott where he explains how companies can successfully transition to becoming digital enterprises. Willmott is certain that the IT, the CDO and the CEO will together drive this agenda but the CIO has to be in the command.

Lastly, you may be regularly reading Abbie Lundberg's blogs here on Of late, her focus is on Digital and how CIO is the most suitable bet for creating a digital enterprise. But in her latest blog Have CIOs Failed?, she really sounds baffled with the emergence of the idea of Chief Digital Officer. While all her research in past one year points out that the CIO is believed to be the right person to lead the organisation's digital innovation, the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer is quite a worry and anti-climax. "Has CIO not lived upto his/her name?," she asks in the blog.

I have a similar question. While the CIOs are still making technology acquisitions to solve business challenges but are they finding it tough to hold the strategic position in their org? Are they finding it touch to look beyond technology to see larger alignment with business?

Are you forcing yourself to be digital or does it come to you naturally? 

This year's CPC will be totally focused on how India Inc. is progressing on Digital and will bring out jewels of the digital - the key tagline of the CIO Productive Conclave. Watch this space.

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Rahul Neel Mani

Rahul Neel Mani is the Co-founder and Editor of Grey Head Media. Rahul has nearly 20 years of experience in ...

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