How CIOs can move from technology expert to business strategist

March 20, 2020
Andy Ross
Andy Ross, partner at Gravity 9, explores how CIOs can move from being a technology expert to a business strategist

As the lines between business and IT priorities start to blur, the role of the CIO is rapidly evolving from technology expert to business strategist. As a result, they have become a key driving force behind digital innovation, helping their organisations to progress from digital transformation ideation to reality.

However, only 48.8% of respondents of a recent survey by NTT claim to be ‘satisfied’ in the belief that their leadership teams have the right skills to manage the execution of a digital strategy. This demonstrates that more needs to be done at the top to ensure that a holistic digital transformation strategy is effectively executed.

CIOs have traditionally been tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that technology becomes the defining pillar of the business. Scaling digital innovation has now inevitably become part of that remit, so how can CIOs become more strategically focused?

Using IT innovation experience to drive digital ambitions

CIOs possess years of experience managing complexity and change, navigating the cumbersome waters of using technology to drive business innovation and enhance customer experience. They can build on this experience to create an environment of digital aspiration within the business and inspire an, at times, overburdened workforce.

Inspiration can also be garnered from digital innovation trailblazers such as Amazon, Lego and even the NHS. Understanding how their digital strategy enabled them to stay ahead of the competition and appeal to an increasingly digital savvy audience and apply this to their own businesses.

Let the data do the heavy lifting

Data holds the key to staying ahead of the curve when it comes to developing new digital products and services. Data science goes that one step further and helps to promote the value of AI (deep learning) for organisations through a combination of the right strategy, technology and skills.

Machine learning-empowered data analytics goes that one step further, enabling companies to gain valuable insight into customer behaviour. Harnessing the transformative power of data science can reap huge rewards, however a water-tight strategy and solution management plan being put in place right from the start is crucial to the programme’s success.

Company culture is a barrier to digital transformation

There is growing recognition that, rather than the technology, digital is more about people, their mindsets and behaviours. In fact, Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2021, CIOs will be as responsible for culture change. It appears that CIOs now

face the challenge of developing a vision of how they see their company influence society, enabling it to make a positive and purpose-led impact.

That also includes nurturing an internal ethos of positivity and inclusion where individuals from varying departments and geographies come together to pioneer innovation and change. A diversity & inclusion programme is critical for the success of those teams and will mean that a company-wide group of digital transformation ambassadors can be nurtured.

Bite the bullet and start small

Instead of perceiving digital transformation as a typical five-year programme with steering committees and business cases, start small and see it as a building block exercise. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, simply identify small digital products that you can master. Review existing systems already in place and leverage the expertise at your fingertips to assess how they can be optimised digitally resulting in both time and cost savings. Make small steps initially and they will have significant impact going forward.

Rally the c-suite to your cause

The lack of collaboration between business and IT is still a roadblock digital transformation. As a result, CIOs need to identify key allies in the business who they can work with to drive digital innovation forward.

There has never been a better time to address the c-suite’s lack of urgency and strategy when it comes to move the business forward to reach the dizzy heights of digital prosperity. Coordination and cohesiveness across all business focus areas will result in true digital transformation success.

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