How the CIO became an entrepreneur

If we compare the role of the CIO to a book, it’s a story with lots of cliffhangers. And, right now, we are writing a particularly exciting chapter. One in which the CIO will no longer play a supporting role, but will instead determine the plot himself. After all, the CIO is the most appropriate person to shape this digital and business transformation. All that is needed is a more holistic approach towards the transformation.

Increasing technological advances, the shift to online channels and changing customer expectations are forcing companies to rethink their traditional ways of working. Digital transformation seeks to answer a number of questions: what are the business challenges we want to solve? How can we build differentiation? What mindshift is needed to do this? What processes and behaviors do we need to change? Indeed, digital transformation is more about processes and behaviors changing than the technology you put in front of people.

This evolution effectively rewrites the script of the IT department. The CIO realizes that he must look at the bigger picture if he is to have an impact on the organization. He develops a holistic vision, and begins to behave like an entrepreneur or intrapreneur. From now on, the CIO takes a leading rather than a supporting role. After all, the CIO is the most appropriate person to shape this digital and business transformation.

What does business transformation look like?

Once the corporate strategy and objectives have been defined, they must be translated into a transformation portfolio, in which all parts of the organization must be reviewed. Besides customers and services, processes and organization this includes information, applications and IT infrastructure and facilities.

This is clearly no longer a purely IT or technical story. Technology is constantly changing and can only succeed if employees adapt their underlying processes and routine methods of working.  This makes the role of the CIO broader and more complex. He must look at the ‘people-technology-process’ triangle and make sure it is aligned with both architecture and budgets.

Not only does the CIO have more responsibility, he also gets more opportunities to be successful. This manifests itself in several areas, both in the way they work and the way they collaborate.

Technology vs operating model

Traditionally, the IT Manager was primarily concerned with choosing the right tools and making them work properly. Now that IT is gaining in importance and every enterprise has become a data-driven business, the IT Manager is fast becoming a CIO, or getting a CIO above him. He also has to think about the operating model and the business strategy, not just the IT strategy. It used to be only about tools, now it’s about technology as well as people and processes.

Einzelgänger vs. team player

The CIO now interacts much more with the other managers to distill the business strategy into a transformation portfolio. From the basement, he takes the elevator to the boardroom. The CEO, the CFO and the CPO have become daily interlocutors, because they too must recognize that digital transformation is more than technology. IT and business are thus growing closer: the CIO is learning to speak the language of business, while the other members of the C-suite and the board are gaining a better understanding of the role of technology. This renewed role requires new skills from the CIO that he traditionally has not been trained for, for example around communication and leadership. After all, the CIO has to pull the rest of the C-suite along in the digital transformation and will have to be more persuasive. This is at odds with the archetypal image of an introverted IT person. Today’s CIO has little in common with the IT manager of two decades ago, but the pressure to change remains high.

IT order in the chaos of applications

Technology has become crucial to every part of an organization That also means that each department wants to deploy its own specific software. Just think, for example, of the wide range of tools used in sales and marketing today. Thanks to SaaS, it has also become easier for everyone to purchase these tools, leading to the phenomenon of ‘shadow IT’. Organizations have a jumble of applications that are not necessarily aligned. Within a digital transformation exercise, this needs to be rationalized: which applications are still part of the bigger story, and which ones should be phased out? Priority should be given to technology that forms the long-term foundation of the organization and helps increase market share, innovation and differentiation in the marketplace.

Part of the CIO’s role is to align all these different applications with both corporate strategy and IT architecture. Here, the CIO acts as a gatekeeper but, at the same time, as a facilitator for the various departments.

Money pit vs enabler

Nicholas Carr caused a shock wave in IT in 2003 with the publication of his article ‘IT doesn’t matter’ in the Harvard Business Review. In that opinion piece, he described the IT department as a bottomless pit. That reinforced the perception that many business leaders already had, that IT was a cost center or at best a back-office function that delivers no value. Digital transformation does make IT an enabler of the business, and a money-maker rather than a money pit. The exact value, though, is difficult to quantify. IT is too integrated into the entire business transformation for that. But it is clear that IT has become part of the value stream. Gartner analysts describe this as the ‘digital dividend’ of technology investments.

Consistency in narrative

As the driver of business transformation, the CIO’s duties have become so broad that he is in danger of becoming a bottleneck. Moreover, he has to step out of his comfort zone and learn new skills. That does put a lot of pressure on the CIO and makes it difficult to get a happy ending to the digital transformation.

So, to support the CIO and the rest of the management team, we set up ACOMPANY. Usually working as the right hand of the CIO, we provide a Swiss army knife thanks to our agency model that not only provides additional bandwidth but also increases the business acumen of the IT department.

We act as the CIO’s sounding board, develop the broader vision and business architecture, bridge the gap between business and IT and pull the C-suite into the transformation. In this way, we also increase the digital maturity of the entire organization.

With our support, the CIO, as a strategic business partner, stays focused on the progress of business transformation and maintains his holistic overview, without the risk that the multifaceted nature of his changing role may play tricks on him. Since the CIO can rely on experts for all subdomains, the different storylines stay in sync, and he can ensure a consistent narrative in the digital transformation.

Contact us if you would like us to help hold the pen when writing that story.

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