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Going Digital: Why Today's CIO Needs to be Better with People than Technology

By Kate Christiansen, Managing Director, The Adaptive Advantage and author of The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within

Going Digital: Why Today's CIO Needs to be Better with People than Technology

Kate Christiansen, Managing Director, The Adaptive Advantage and author of The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within

CEOs are looking to their most senior technology executives to lead the charge on their firm’s digital strategy. However, as many CIOs are discovering, success in a digital world is not just about having the best technology. It’s also about building an internal, collaborative environment and an organisation that can effectively respond to a world of complex change. So how can you do this?

Digital Depends on Collaboration

Let’s start by clarifying what a digital strategy really is, and importantly, what it’s not. It’s not about the internet, big data, mobile technology or the cloud. These may feature within it, but at its core, successful digital strategy comes down to an organisation’s ability to address 5 core areas, none of which can be resolved by a single department on its own (Figure 1).

It starts with gaining Insights into how technology is changing people’s liveand how this is changing their needs and expectations of those they buy from, spend time with or work for. A similar level of collaboration is needed on the Responses side, to determine how emerging technology can be used to meet changing needsand expectations as well as making delivery more effective (ie. faster, cheaper, better).

The above four areas of the digital strategy involve looking for opportunities and threats that are enabled (or fuelled by) technological change. Then, we reach the fifth area, Adaptive Capabilityand this involves the greatest collaborative effort of all. Namely, changing the organisation such that it’s able to respond to thethreats and opportunities identified in the other four areas, on a continuous basis. As Tom Peters once said “…any idiot with a high IQ can invent a great strategy. What’s really hard is fighting against the unwashed masses and pulling it off”1.

Thus, a successful digital strategy is as much about the ‘how’ as it is about the ‘what’ and as much about ‘people’ as it is about ‘technology”.

The New CIO

So if collaborationis criticalto success, what does this meanfor CIOswho find themselves leading the charge on digital strategy?

First, it means the role of the CIO is growing in strategic importance. This requires incumbents toevolvebeyond the image of ‘the techo guy’ (or gal) persona and have a much broader understanding of the business, its customers and market. Second, the dependency on collaboration means today’s CIOs requires an advanced ability to influence beyond their own teams and build alignment across their executive peers. Finally, the collaborative nature of digital strategy means the role of IT leaders (in general) also needs to change. They need togo beyond merelyworkingcollaboratively with others and instead, need to become adept athelping othersto work with eachother. This involves different skills, stronger leadership and means being more of a facilitator (and at times, mediator) than a technical specialist.

When I talk with CIOs, many are acutely aware of the emerging role they have to play in digital strategy but as with everything, the challenge lies in execution. So, if you are in this situation, what can you dotocreate the business collaborationneeded for digital success?

Actively Engage in Non-IT Conversations

Build your credibility as someone who’s contribution extends well beyond technology. Take time to learn about an area of the business you know little about. Doing so will help you ‘earn the right’ to play a more strategic, leadership role among your peers.

Take the ‘Digital’ Out of Digital Strategy

Using the term digital sends the message that it’s all about the technology. Consequently, your executive colleagues will be more likely to think it’s your job to make it happen, when they also have a critical role to play. An alternative term could be ‘Adaptive Strategy’ or something else that suggests it’s about the organisation operating as a whole not IT doing cool stuff with technology.

Build Alignment by Going Back to Basics

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’vetalked with Executive Teams about their digital strategy andthey’ve been unable to answer four basic questions. Namely: a) Why does it matter? b) What’s the problem or opportunity it addresses? c) What’s in it for customers? d) What does the desired outcome look like? Having a conversation with your executive colleagues that answers these questions is an invaluable way toalign and build commitment to the strategy.

Be Clear What You Expect from Your Team

As the CIO you will rely on your team to help bring the strategy to life. Be clear what role you expect them to play and provide opportunities to develop the skills they need.

Finally, remember that no strategy (digital or otherwise) leads itself. It’s therefore up to you to leap into the driver’s seat, firmly take the wheel and lead with the conviction, determination and resilience required to succeed.

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