Why digital transformation is preparing the CIO to become the next CEO

Phil Richards, CSO at Ivanti, on the importance a CIO’s role within digital transformation and why they could be the CEO in waiting

Driving business growth and remaining competitive is a complex task for any business in this digital and ‘instant gratification’ world. In order to win market share, customer centricity has become a corporate mainstay.

Providing a personalised, configurable and convenient business model that can be accessed by customers at any time, anywhere is now seen as a requirement. The challenge is that very few organisations can efficiently provide tailored business functions without a modern approach to IT. More frequently technology is intertwined with organisational operations and often becomes the deciding factor that underpins business success. The need for business to implement a successful digital transformation strategy is no longer a nice addition to improve the efficiency of the IT department, but a business enabling activity that is essential to achieving organisational cost control and revenue expectations.

There are many definitions of what digital transformation really means, but in essence, it is about leveraging the best technology to improve how employees do their jobs and how customers access corporate services. The very best outcome happens when a business is then able to deliver better service or product to customers as a direct result. The role of IT is essential to any digital transformation project and there has been a significant change in how this department is perceived by the board. Instead of being viewed as an additional cost to the business, IT is now seen as a proactive business enabler. As well as transforming the structure of workplace operations and the mindset towards IT, digital transformation also changes the nature of many job roles, including that of the CIO. Digital transformation is no longer than 18-month special project, handled by a senior member of the IT department, but is a continuous business activity that is essential to IT delivery.

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The metamorphosis of the CIO

It is the CIO’s responsibility to drive innovation and leverage technology to generate new revenue, improve the customer experience and boost internal efficiency. The technical and data-driven knowledge that the CIO processes places them right in the centre of the inner workings of the company and enables them to have a unique insight on how to develop an air-tight business strategy that will successfully enable a digital shift and add value to the business. To successfully achieve this a CIO must have a direct working relationship with and open discourse to the CEO. To support this, many businesses have changed the CIO’s immediate report from the traditional CFO to the CEO. In fact, research from IDG has revealed that this is the case for 43% of CIO’s in enterprises and 51% in SMBs.

Due to this added visibility, individuals from varying backgrounds are taking on the role of CIO, giving them the edge of having the necessary technical expertise combined with the added benefit of business strategy. This is supported by recent research from Korn/Ferry, which found within its 2018 Technology Officer Pulse Survey that 83% of top technology officers believe that their role is more strategic than it was three years ago and 67% of them are now on their company’s executive committee – this a huge 12% increase from the previous year.

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As such, the CIO’s role is becoming more influential as technology is placed at the heart of business strategy and is placing the CIO in the perfect position to become a business leader. In the past there has been stigma around the CIO transitioning to become a CEO, however, digital transformation has meant that this glass ceiling is breaking. Many well-known innovative businesses have already appointed previous CIOs as CEOs including NHS Digital, Tesco and BT Openreach. However, there is still more that can be done to continue to drive the IT department forwards as a business enabler. Despite an increased investment from business in technology, outdated stereotypes about IT are still prevalent in many organisations. In order to develop an environment which grows future leaders, CIOs need to reshape the IT department. They need to both attract new breeds of IT professional to their teams, and upskill existing employees. New job titles and a compensation structure need to be put into place to encourage professionals to enable business efficiency. Furthermore, establishing revenue targets will turbo-boost teams and prepare them for future leadership roles. Still, this isn’t to say that technical expertise should be in any way devalued as business success requires constant digital evolution which requires technical input.

The modern CIO should be constantly developing and communicating business strategies, and the outcomes they will achieve, to the CFO, CEO and Board of Directors in order to prove how invaluable they are, and how well they understand how to keep improving, and growing the organisation. This will only continue to build the trust the board has in the IT department and evolve the skill set of the CIO placing them in great position to become the next CEO.

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Written by Phil Richards, CSO at Ivanti

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