In even the most unified boardrooms, each C-suite executive has a unique digital transformation game plan. The chief marketing officer wants to engage with customers in new and exciting ways. The chief operations officer wants a production line and supply chain keenly focused on quality and market responsiveness. The chief HR officer needs to create a culture that embraces millennials and Gen Z while retaining diversity-rich talent across the six-generation workforce.
Despite these different mandates, one common thread unites them all: Digital transformation, even though it means something different to each department.
A forward-looking CIO with a holistic, connected approach can be the glue to realize the full potential of a digital enterprise. In fact, a recent Economist Intelligence Unit study, “Digitising IT: Catalysts for Growth,” revealed that 65% of IT executives and 59% of non-IT executives agree that collaboration between the CIO and line-of-business management provides the greatest opportunity for success in digital initiatives.
The Future of the Future with Game-Changers Radio covered the time-critical topic in “IT Leadership and Digital Transformation: What’s Next?” I was honored to join Allan Adler, managing partner at Digital Bridge Partners, and Rob Glickman, vice president of audience marketing at SAP, to examine how CIOs can establish such a relationship with non-IT executives.
Go beyond doing things right by doing the right things
The search for new business-model values is becoming a disruptive force in the IT environment. Unfortunately, CIOs and their teams are still spending 80% of their time managing vendors and maintaining the existing legacy infrastructure.
Allan Adler observed, “IT must transition from putting fuel in the car to making new engines. It’s really important to understand current economics and how it is fundamentally altering the business model dynamic. By far, the most successful businesses are no longer businesses at all. They are businesses that set up multi-sided networks – such as Uber, Airbnb, Google, Microsoft, and YouTube – bringing together multiple types of customers to create a value proposition that supports everyone.”
Sitting on the cusp of this evolution is the CIO, whose expertise includes identifying how technology can create new business model opportunities, open up revenue streams, understand new market competition, and change how products are built, priced, marketed, and distributed.
“Such transformation comes down to courage more than anything else,” Adler advised. “CIOs have grown up with this idea of making IT safe, keeping the lights on, and avoiding screw-ups. Ultimately, they need to be courageous enough to risk and innovate – and it starts with the CIO stepping out of the comfort zone and asking what end-to-end customer experience are they trying to deliver and what problem are they solving.”
Accept failure as a stepping stone to digital transformation success
Adler aptly reminds us that part of the digital transformation learning process is allowing room for failure. It is highly important that the CIO and the rest of the executive team understand that there will be times when bits and pieces of a digital strategy might not work. It might be for a variety of reasons, and it might not be attributable to a traditional IT scenario; it could very well be just that the user base just doesn’t adopt it.
However, this concept may be tough for most CIOs to embrace. CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, and the rest of the boardroom have to start changing their mindset to successfully define what digital innovation means and engage in digital successes that are transformational. Because this is such a difficult thing to do, 98% of executives will find it challenging to get their minds wrapped around the fact that 3% of their projects will be failures.
Once CIOs embody an agile, nimble, flexible, fail-fast, forward-looking mentality, the CEO and the other C-suite members will become better informed about the advantages of this approach. And ultimately, the management team will eventually adopt that mindset as they uncover the business’ potential for the future.
Don’t wait for an invitation to do things better – just do it
The latest crop of CIOs are acting on digital strategies much like how venture capitalists approach investing. According to Robert Glickman, CIOs are cobbling together a new IT infrastructure of cloud applications, APIs, and platforms as a service that increasingly lie outside of their control. However, everything must all work seamlessly together to serve their business.
“CIOs have to have a completely different perspective. But the common thread across everything is the customer – their needs that drive your business,” he mentions. “The CIO really is forced to think about serving the customer much more than in the past, even serving the customer’s customer as well.”
By looking at the business with an open mind, with curiosity, and with permission to fail, CIOs can further develop the business to become an industry disrupter. Take, for example, the data residing in business systems. CIOs can unleash a treasure trove of competitive information by marrying data residing within and around the company with open platforms that pull in external data generated by sensors, mobile devices, and social channels.
On the topic of the CIO as the connective tissue of the organization, Glickman mused, “When I think of the challenges of the CIO, I wonder how they will deal with this brave new world of being much more open than before. Part of that is being able to fail quickly, creating fail-safe environments, and providing leadership that is the beacon that ties the rest of the company’s goals together.”
Hear more insights about the CIO’s influence on enterprise-wide digital transformation in “IT Leadership and Digital Transformation: What’s Next?”
Wondering what the role of your IT team should be in the age of digital transformation? This report from the Economist Intelligence Unit has some answers.