CIOs are Embracing the Agitator Role While Leading the Digital Transformation Charge
Real world business lessons shared at CIO Perspectives Boston 2019
Gone are the days of the CIO being the controller. Today’s most progressive IT leaders are focused on digital innovation while transitioning from a “know-it-all” to a “learn-it-all” mindset. Organizations continue to pour dollars and resources into digital business initiatives, and are counting on CIOs to transform these investments into true business value. To be effective in today’s business climate, the CIO must serve as a catalyst for change and find the right balance between people, processes and technology. This requires the CIO to become an agitator – a leader who challenges the status quo, encourages diversity of thought, and implements the right technology to redefine the customer experience.
Last month at CIO Perspectives Boston, we heard first-hand accounts from CIOs and IT executives who are successfully leading digital transformation efforts within their respective organizations. Let’s dive into what they had to say…
While every business transformation is unique, each comes down to the technology and people behind it. But how do you unleash the power of your data and employees? IT leaders agree this starts with breaking down silos within the organization and fostering a culture of communication and creative thinking. Once this process is underway, transformation can truly occur.
When removing barriers, it is imperative to reconcile the data living in these silos so it can be used for actionable insights relating to the business efficiencies, customer experience, technology, etc. CIOs should be focused on digital to uncover new business opportunities. For instance, just by transitioning to the cloud, equipment can be connected to networks so that data is shared between teams. Elizabeth Hackenson, CIO, Schneider Electric, also noted the emerging benefits behind robotic process automation (RPA) including automating business functions, as well as training IT and business process experts. These are just a few examples of how connected technology can help enable a more efficient and strategic approach for organizations.
With the right structure in place, the CIO can focus on tackling technical debt and outcome-based funding. As we know, digital transformation typically requires expensive technology. In order to maximize investments, it is critical to determine the value of the technologies that are already in place while analyzing new and innovative solutions. In doing so, the CIO can identify where costs can be cut, and then recycled into the projects that are performing well and/or invested in new systems for long-term solutions.
Collaboration & Communication
From a people standpoint, CIOs must challenge their staff to think outside the box and ensure that everyone has a voice. To embody this approach, CIOs should be talking to as many people as possible in order to develop new perspectives and understand different elements of the business. Currently, there are five generations in the workforce, marking the first time this has ever occurred in the modern economy. This is a great opportunity for organizations to maximize a diverse collection of skills, perspectives, and ideas. In order to do so, it’s important to structure teams and talent in a way that makes sense for the business.
Savvy CIOs understand that communication between IT and their LOB counterparts is essential to drive change across the organization. Also, a growing trend is the use of squads and scrums – or smaller, more connected teams – that can work together to create a cohesive roadmap for transformation. Squads and scrums can be particularly effective for large global organizations that may struggle to make decisions at a local level.
Listening & Learning: Asking the Uncomfortable Questions
Panelists at CIO Perspectives agree that the most effective transformations begin with people as opposed to technology – and that’s exactly why CIOs should be listening to their employees and customers. Not only that, they need to be proactive in their approach.
Asking the right (and often uncomfortable) questions allows the CIO to gain a thorough understanding of the pain-points of the business and identify where new processes and technology can be implemented to alleviate those stressors. As noted, this requires the CIO to speak with a multitude of people, including individuals outside of the organization. This allows IT leaders to obtain the real, actionable insights needed to remove barriers eventually leading to more customer interactions.
Hal Gregersen, Executive Director at MIT Leadership Center, referenced the concept of a “Listening Tour” where business leaders can seek out different perspectives while positioning themselves to be an agent for change. “At the top, it becomes excruciatingly difficult to uncover what you don’t know that you don’t know. That’s the point where you become disrupted and blindsided,” says Gregersen. Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, is a major proponent of this philosophy. Prior to founding the tech giant, Benioff traveled the globe asking questions of all those he encountered and truly listening to what people had to say.
“Benioff put himself in strikingly different places and asked questions of thousands of people, leaders and non-leaders, rich and poor, business and government, profit and nonprofit,” continues Gregersen. Eventually, these insights would help Benioff to piece together the initial concept behind Salesforce – selling enterprise software the way Amazon sells books (which at the time was a radical business proposal). Put simply, CIOs who take the time to listen and learn are better prepared to make the decisions that truly drive transformation.
Tech Investments & Strategy
As the business climate increases in complexity, CIOs are taking on a more strategic role within the C-suite. While digital transformation begins with people, we can all agree that technology is the tool that enables the disruption. Through a data driven approach, the CIO can make educated purchase decisions and provide the technologies their staff needs to be successful.
Currently, IT leaders are primarily investing in mobile devices and apps but our research shows that AI, machine learning and 5G are considered the top digital business drivers going forward. In particular, panelists confirmed that the hype behind AI is justified, though we are still in the early stages of perfecting the technology. But ultimately, it comes down to the CIO to determine what makes sense for their business and budget.
Leading a digital transformation is no easy endeavor – but it’s a worthwhile one. To follow suit with the most innovative IT leaders, CIOs must embrace the agitator role if they have not already – that means focusing on the power of people and technology to challenge the status-quo.
About CIO Perspectives
CIO Perspectives is a series of one-day regional forums for CIOs, IT executives and premium vendors to connect and collaborate on the most pressing business technology issues. The series provides a great opportunity to accelerate your sales pipeline while developing relationships with local CIOs and senior IT executives. As a sponsor, you’ll lead discussions on key business technology topics and meet with buyers. Check out our remaining 2019 dates and locations, and stay tuned as our 2020 schedule will be announced shortly.
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