From Keep Up To Step Up: The CIO’s Next Move In Digital Transformation

Geoff Scott

The average IT budget can be categorized into two buckets: 80% keeping the lights on and 20% innovation. Although this practice has worked over the last few decades, it is now at odds with the growing pressure that CIOs and IT organizations face. When defining the value of IT, the organization has a tremendous decision to make: 1) become the minder of the back-office infrastructure that needs constant care, or 2) give the front office what they need to address customer wishes and requirements.

Is it possible for CIOs and their IT organization to contribute more to revenue growth and create greater customer value, while responding to the traditional expectations of undisrupted operations and cost efficiency? After spending over two decades of my career as a CIO and now CEO, I am finding that it is possible for the IT organization to reinvent itself as an innovator of business and customer value. The key is to elevate the CEO’s perception of IT as a critical enabler of everything that the enterprise does.

Granted, reputations – especially long-established ones – are tough to change. To help ease the transition, CIOs should consider doing three things now to get underway.

Learn why innovation should be a core focus of a company's digital transformation efforts

Tip #1: Become an empathetic partner of the C-suite

CIOs who are not part of the CEO’s roundtable aren’t there because they haven’t yet earned the right to be there. Although maintenance of the IT landscape is a critical part of running the enterprise, the rest of the company views such matters as white noise that offers no significant value to the bottom line. And this perspective is cemented by the fact that IT doesn’t carry a revenue number nor line up with what’s happening in the enterprise.

What the boardroom wants is an IT expert who can take on the role of digital transformation influencer and strategic leader. ASUG member survey data on digital transformation found that a mix of executives are steering transformative efforts today (including the CIO) as well as a real opportunity for IT leaders to step up and lead. In short, CIOs have to prove that they also have a stake in digital transformation, instead of just being service that executes the wishes and needs of others.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the CIO needs to partner with every business area; but they should collaborate with one or two functions. By empathizing with business needs, CIOs can help executives see how their departments can better operate with greater visibility, faster processing, and more accurate insight. The key is to resist talking about software capabilities so that the conversation can focus on matching needs with technology by showing real bottom-line outcomes.

For example, a CIO and CMO can discuss customer segmentation and ways to reach customers more effectively. By focusing on the needs and wants of the marketing function, the CIO can better understand current opportunities and risks and how technology can address them.

Tip #2: Shed day-to-day maintenance operations to create strategic partnerships

CIOs need to treat themselves as the CEO of their own technology company. This mentality requires a trusted lieutenant to run daily IT operations with authority and expertise. Not only does this free the CIO to form partnerships with the rest of the C-suite, but also provides solutions to business concerns.

Don’t be fooled: Building these executive relationships is more than shaking hands and engaging in friendly banter. CIOs may have to research the functions they support, as well as competitors and industry peers. Otherwise, the CIO and IT will continue to be relegated as the implementer of someone else’s choices and investments. And worse, they will be the ones responsible for fixing any issues that may go wrong or break along the way – preventing the organization from scaling operations to maintain the budget and drive cost savings.

Tip #3: Prove value as the resident technology entrepreneur

Increasingly, technologists from startups and headline-grabbing tech firms are being invited to join the board – instead of those who reside in the office of the CIO. For many businesses, these technology entrepreneurs are appealing as front-office, customer-centric specialists – not for their back-office experience.

For CIOs, this added competition for a seat in the boardroom is forcing them to reexamine how they get the attention of the C-suite. In addition, CIOs must help the CEO realize their value as an essential member of the executive team. But as long as the IT organization is worried about operations and not concerned with innovation, this dream is likely out of reach.

It is possible that the future of IT is more of a bifurcated organization. Two-thirds of the IT area may focus on cloud services and back-office support, while a smaller team drives innovation that can help the front office progress forward. Rather than developing shiny new toys and gadgets that may be impressive at first sight but value depraved, the CIO can demonstrate that the organization understands the business and knows how to drive its digital enterprise vision.

The new CIO agenda: Balancing revenue growth with continuous operational efficiency

Digital transformation is fundamentally moving technology away from the purview of the back office. Most companies have complex, global processes that need to be regularly tuned to market conditions and require a dedicated IT team keep them alive. At the same time, the growing influence of the Internet and mobile devices are shifting technology from something that only big organizations can afford to do in the back end to the rise of a tech-enablement revolution in the front office – somewhere CIOs have never played before.

This is a very different world for CIOs as they move outside of their (and possibly the boardroom’s) comfort zone. However, to exist and succeed in this new world, CIOs have no choice but to think like marketers, sales people, accountants, or any other role in the business to shed its reputation as a cost center and build a foundation for technology entrepreneurship.

Check out the webcast replay “IT Leadership for the Next Phase of Digital Transformation” to explore how CIOs and IT leadership can bring key innovations to the digital transformation experience that drive value and competitive reward.


Geoff Scott

About Geoff Scott

Geoff Scott is CEO of Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG), the world's largest community of SAP professionals. He has more than two decades of experience as a CIO and senior IT leader. Scott has more than 20 years of ERP experience, including seven years of extensive SAP implementation and operations experience covering global operations. He has implemented SAP for a number of organizations of various sizes. His experience in the automotive, food, fashion/retail/apparel, and startup spaces brings unique and broad-based industry experience to ASUG.