Four Steps To Becoming The Postmodern CIO Your Business Demands

Christine Ashton

Part 6 in thePostmodern CIO” series

The world where CIOs could function simply by recording IT transactions and running reports has gone. There’s been a growth in data silos; users complain that existing systems are overloaded and not easy to use; and there’s a lack of real-time business insight.

Today, entire industries are being constantly reshaped by disruptive technology and a lowering of costs. Business models’ shelf lives are shrinking. Infinite growth, instant market dominance, and control of supply chains are within reach of even the tiniest startup that knows how to use its agility to its advantage. That’s why digital matters: It accelerates the rate of disruption. It democratizes new technology by breaking down the barriers to access for businesses irrespective of size. The faster this access gets created, the more a market can scale.

You could be forgiven for thinking that things haven’t really changed, and it’s all hype. Digitalization of businesses has shifted power to the consumer, and they expect personal product experiences based on their preferences anytime anywhere. The postmodern CIO understands these shifts and is focused on equipping their business to lead their current markets – and new ones as well.

An opportunity to harness digital tools

There’s an opportunity for the postmodern CIO to act in new and innovative ways. But doing so means harnessing the tools created by the digital revolution, not trying to leverage legacy options created in a different era to address these new and different challenges.

Cloud, mobile, and digital solutions will be key, but IT leaders also need to direct their teams to be the drivers of change they need to learn how to build and execute new business models. This means a change in perspective for CIOs: They must understand that even though things look the same now, the world has changed.

This change demands that the postmodern CIO embraces technology that supports the radicalization of business processes and outcomes. This means enabling limitless scalability across shared architectures, cast-iron security in open social environments, and simplified user interfaces that are focused on the “one device for everything” end-user experience. Postmodern CIOs understand all this and are already forming a vision for their IT teams driven by new ways to integrate their systems and processes.

By following the four steps below, you can become the postmodern CIO that your company needs to survive in a world of constant competition and rapid technological change.

1. Create a strategic plan.

According to IT research advisory firm Gartner, 42% of CEOs in 2017 have begun the process of digital business transformation. This is an improvement from previous years and one that will give the 42% significantly enhanced career prospects. But even so, almost half of CEOs have no metrics to judge the success of their digital transformation. As the CIO, your capacity is to serve as chief advisor during this period of change and innovation, making sure that you carefully lay out an adaptive road map for the transformation.

2. Avoid the low-hanging poisoned fruit.

As a CIO, it’s all too tempting to start using technology to optimize self-contained IT activities and focus solely on cost reduction. Leading as a CIO, however, means recognizing how you will impact business functions across the enterprise and in doing so, gain buy-in from the rest of the organization. Avoid the impulse to self-segregate and start thinking collaboratively.

3. Start with the customer first.

Digital technologies offer the chance to better understand your customers: their behavior, their preferences, and their unfulfilled needs. This understanding then needs to be used to create more appealing products and services. According to digital transformation expert Didier Bonnet, up to 80%  of digital investments need to be prioritized based on better understanding customer behavior and improving the total customer experience. Companies such as Nike have wisely used digital technologies to branch out from their original competencies and offer tech-enabled tools like the Nike+ fuelband, a wearable device that tracks physical activity.

4. Make technology everyone’s job.

By leveraging techniques such as automation and identifying deadweight processes, CIOs can help drive down the costs of legacy systems and custom development and apply those savings toward innovation. The resources gained here should be reallocated and applied for the benefit of the entire organization, breaking down departmental barriers and silos and ushering in meaningful, lasting change.

Even the most enlightened IT department will struggle to keep track with the pace of technological innovation. It’s inevitable that a shadow IT network will grow up as users bring their experiences and expectations as a consumer into work via an ever-growing range of applications. A shift away from legacy spending can free the postmodern CIO to partner with the business on what they are seeking to achieve. An “innocent until proven guilty” approach entails more up-front risk, but encourages innovation.

Final thoughts

As the responsibilities of the postmodern CIO change from IT manager to strategic partner, those companies that refuse to adapt will be left behind. The four activities mentioned above are only a few of the key steps that CIOs must take in order to prepare their organizations to survive and thrive in the postmodern IT environment.

For more on leadership in the age of digital disruption, see Digital Transformation, Talent-Driven Organizations, And The Future of Work.


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.