The CIO Dilemma Along The Digital Transformation Tightrope

Rob Glickman

As digital transformation continues to redefine business, the role of the CIO and the IT organization is experiencing nothing less than an identity crisis. It wasn’t long ago when Big Bang deployments, such as data center consolidations and ERP modernization, were the primary focus. But along the road to adopting all things digital, CIOs are now expected to bring the entire business into a digital future, all while preventing even the smallest disruption.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report, Digitising IT, 35% of line-of-business executives encourage the notion of having IT play a more active or leading role in digital initiatives. And their desire is not without merit. In fact, the EIU research uncovered that 87% of respondents who have an IT function focused on innovation are more likely to achieve effective digital initiatives, compared to 60% who cite efficiency as the primary IT objective.

Even if they are talented and lucky enough to land a gig architecting and leading digital transformation, CIOs must perform a delicate balancing act. There are still the traditional responsibilities of maintaining operational security, ensuring 24×7 access, and providing technical services and support. However, maintaining smooth IT operations is simply nowhere near enough anymore to garner the respect of the C-suite. It’s the ability to drive efficiency and control while dynamically deliver the level of innovation and collaboration the entire business requires.

A new common ground for digital transformation and IT

Without a doubt, pockets of disparate innovation across the business are delivering tremendous competitive advantage within each individual area: Marketers rely on the ability to get closer to the customer and track campaign outcomes. Sales managers depend on insight into the opportunity pipeline and strategy effectiveness. The HR department is finding ways to remove inherent bias from hiring practices. And even finance teams are leveraging data to improve cash positions while shortening collection cycles and streamlining close processes.

However, the overall business is still missing out on a fundamental tenet of digital transformation: Connected digital initiatives drive the experiences customers expect.

Take the cruise line industry, for example. A ship’s reputation is built on creating memorable and unique customer experiences by routinely offering travelers a range of products, excursions, drinks, and dining experiences. Norwegian Cruise Lines, an industry innovator with a 50-year history, decided to break the boundaries of traditional cruising by leveraging real-time customer insight to deliver a superior customer experience. By unifying all areas of the business into one central digital core of information allows the company to analyze large volumes of data from multiple sources and deliver results rapidly – from the reservation desk to return voyage. Norwegian has full insight into which packages and excursions are the most profitable and can identify new products, services, and revenue streams that align with traveler needs and desires.

As proven by Norwegian, the success of a customer experience is indelibly linked to companywide digital transformation. Customers have immense power in a world where everyone and everything are connected. Expectations are high, and competition is fierce as every success and failure are broadcasted worldwide at a moment’s notice. No single organization can possibly scale operations fast enough to address every opportunity and risk that arise.

The EIU report further suggests that a concerted effort to collaborate, devise, and implement a digital transformation strategy may be the single most important action that organizations can take to align IT with business needs and achieve better outcomes, as identified by 44% of IT executives and 42% non-IT leaders. For CIOs and the entire IT organization, a top-down approach to digital adoption is an opportunity to showcase its expertise and value. But first, IT must shift its desire for control to focus on bottom-line outcomes such as revenue growth, cash flow, and profit margin.

It’s time for IT to embrace a leading role in digital transformation

I meet with customers as much as possible, and every executive I meet all have something in common: Innovation is always top of mind, and the struggle to stay ahead is palpable. With the fragmentation of technology, the availability of edge-solutions to solve line of business specific dilemmas, the need for IT to partner with and guide the business has never been greater.

The CIO has a compelling reason to partner with every functional area and this shift in focus from the traditional technology ownership model to delivery of data-driven insights is very real. IT needs to step up and offer strategic solutions that help the business evolve work behaviors, accelerate access to data anytime and anywhere, and adopt digital methodologies that offer competitive value, across the customer journey.

By aligning services with current and future needs, the IT function can help promote continuous innovation across the company. More important, the CIO can emerge as a trusted C-suite advisor who is immersed in the daily nuances of business operations and understands what matter most to employees, leadership, and customers.

Learn more about how CIOs can become digital solution innovators.


Rob Glickman

About Rob Glickman

Rob Glickman is Vice President of Audience Marketing at SAP, where he leads a team chartered with the articulation of SAP’s point of view of the business value of Cloud computing both internally within SAP, as well as externally to customers, partners and influencers. He brings 20 years of marketing experience ranging from lean startups to large enterprises, including running Product Marketing for Symantec and seven years at eBay where he had various marketing leadership roles globally. A dual EU and US citizen with extensive international work and life experience, Rob has a BA from Skidmore College and an International MBA from Thunderbird Graduate School.