In the ongoing debate over who is better positioned to own and drive digital, CIO or CDO, the results are pretty much open ended with both the lobbies citing valid reasons in support of their respective agendas. In the midst of this clamor, Ramesh Shanmuganathan, Group CIO, John Keells Group and CEO, John Keells IT has opened a third front – one that is built on the belief that all this debate around titles is pretty much redundant.

“You don’t need any title to do any of the changes that digital requires. If you educate yourself and keep yourself current, then whether you are a CEO, CMO, CXO, CIO, it doesn’t really matter,” says Shanmuganathan.

He believes that the creation of the CDO entity and the momentum around the digital portfolio moving to the CDO started off from the CIO’s struggle with balancing the transactional part of IT, which is the traditional IT organization that the CIO is running and the engagement part of IT, which is the digital stack. The two stacks of bi-modal IT need to be approached very differently with different policies and mechanisms operationalizing them, he asserts.

Comparing traditional IT to being a marathon runner and digital to being a sprint runner, Shanmuganathan explains that while traditional IT like the ERP system, etc. would require putting stricter policies, one can’t afford to be that rigid with the digital stack and has got to have liberalized data and APIs in order to create a platform and ecosystem for others to collaborate on.

How one manages these two has to be very different. That is where having the same person, i.e. the CIO, for managing bi-modal IT was leading to the struggle.

The two worlds of bi-modal IT are as different as chalk and cheese. On one hand, the CIO has gotten used to running an IT organization wherein he/she commands what can be done and what can’t be done on the IT systems, what can be accessed and what can’t be. The CIO is in charge and in control. On the other hand, as one moves to the world of digital, it is the customer who is in control and demands what he/she wants. Now, this is something that the CIO traditionally has not been used to.

Balancing that act is very delicate and that is where, Shanmuganathan believes, a lot of CIOs struggle. “Very often the CIO and CDO become two different roles because one person struggles to manage both the ends of the continuum – the transactional IT stack and the digital stack. If you can crack this delicate balance and manage both the ends, then there is no reason why you can’t have the CIO and the CDO in one person,” he explains.

As long as the said C-suite leader is a team player and working towards ultimately impacting customer experience.

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