Why CIOs Need To Be Postmodern

Christine Ashton

Part 1 in the “Postmodern CIO” series

Businesses are more reliant on technology than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that CIOs are supposed to focus solely on maintaining their enterprise applications and IT infrastructure. Regardless of the size of the company they work for, the days when a CIO’s primary role was just keeping the lights on are long gone. Or at least they are for the generation of CIOs with a vision for using technology to enable their businesses to reconfigure themselves for the rapidly evolving digital marketplace.

More and more CIOs are leaving the gritty technical details to their IT managers and becoming innovation leaders, occupying a seat at the table with the rest of the C-suite. In doing so, they’re assuming greater responsibility, moving from operating a system of record and running reports to overseeing a post-modern technology and services environment that underpins the truly digital business.

From cloud and mobile technologies to APIs and software as a service (SaaS), undergoing a digital transformation means providing your employees with the tools and solutions they need in order to do their jobs quickly and correctly. This new breed of CIO needs to enable the instant, limitless scalability and immediate access to innovation that come with being a genuinely digitally enhanced organization. Here’s are just a few ways postmodern CIOs stand out from their predecessors:

The role of the postmodern CIO

1. From operating IT to innovating business operations

IT professionals have never been in such a strong position to help their colleagues in the wider business achieve their goals. The IT department can now proactively move to create simplified processes, tools, and capabilities that the business team could only have dreamed of, delivering value for internal users, suppliers, and customers.

2. From owning software to leveraging ecosystems

IT environments no longer need to contain disconnected pieces of software, but dozens or hundreds of interlocking parts that together form a coherent business technology ecosystem. Developing the capability to help the business take advantage of this constantly evolving environment is crucial. Helping the business learn how it can reconfigure itself in near real time to develop new capability and to take advantage of innovations is how the postmodern CIO can create added value. Making a shift from an architectural view of the technology ecosystem to a business design perspective will be a key milestone for the success of any postmodern CIO.

3. From managing teams to growing talents

Mentoring and team-building are already crucial skills for any CIO, but the task becomes even more crucial as the competition for tech talent grows fiercer. A talented, inclusive, and confident IT workforce is the catalyst for business innovation, and postmodern CIOs need to put their focus on building a well-oiled talent pipeline to hire and retain the best people.

4. From keeping the lights green to delivering differentiation

CIOs need to be so much more than glorified tech support and should consider how they can hold suppliers more accountable to deliver services and stated outcomes. In today’s competitive business landscape, technology can be a source of differentiation between you and your rivals. Those CIOs who really get their hands dirty and strive to understand how they can use technology to benefit their company are best-positioned to lead and react to rapidly changing business objectives and market conditions.

5. From receiving CFO tasks to becoming the COO and advising the CEO

In this new CIO era, IT professionals expect – and are expected – to provide a vision for how the business can leverage technology to deliver results and meet targets. But sometimes they are the only ones who can see the benefits of that vision. By focusing on short-term return on investment, finance can sometimes have a restraining effect on innovative projects that are oriented to the medium or long term. Instead, CIOs might want to consider taking a “phased approach,” working with the business on some clearly defined projects, implemented in a way that, if successful, could be instantly scalable. Such an approach can help cut the perceived risk and help guide CFOs on how their IT investments will reap future dividends. Equally, the pace of technological change means being able to show the instant impact of technology adoption, and it can be a key way for IT to contribute in real time.

Final thoughts

CIOs and other IT leaders need to decide whether they’re going to lead technological change proactively or continue to be a cost-led, shadow procurement department and let change lead them. It’s a choice between dynamism and stasis.

Today’s postmodern CIOs need a strong vision for their company’s future that allows them to make the shift from building static architectures that require a lot of maintenance to keep them relevant, to promoters of innovation in all areas to stay ahead of the curve (and competitors).

Traditional change management won’t work for the digital transformation era. Learn about The New DNA of Change.


Christine Ashton

About Christine Ashton

Christine is global chief digital officer, Digital Office ERP Cloud at SAP. Her focus is to work with CxOs to reimagine strategy and business practices. She works with senior executives to plan their “AI-first” digital transformation road map enabled by intelligent ERP and public cloud. Notably, Christine is recognized in Computer Weekly's 2017’s Most Influential Women In IT - Top 100 list.