How CIOs Can Become True Digital Leaders

by CXOtoday News Desk    Oct 08, 2014

digital innovation

As the technologies and trends that power digitalization move to center stage, CIOs are being presented with a unique opportunity to become digital leaders according to a global survey of CIOs by Gartner.

In its recent report, “Flipping to Digital Leadership: The 2015 CIO Agenda,” based on a survey from 2,810 CIOs, across 84 countries, Gartner mentioned that CIOs are fully aware that they will need to change in order to succeed in digital business, with 75 percent of respondents saying that they need to adapt their leadership style in the next three years.

“To grasp the digital opportunity, incrementally improving IT performance isn’t enough,” says Aron, vice president and Fellow. Digitalization is no longer a sideshow — it has moved to center stage and is changing the whole game.

In its last years’ CIO survey, “Taming the Digital Dragon: The 2014 CIO Agenda” Gartner explored the advent of the third era of enterprise IT, where information and technology make a fundamentally different contribution to the business, less tied to efficiency and effectiveness of internal processes than to enabling disruptive new products, services and business models. Nearly one year later, the “third era” is already underway, and digitalization is increasingly determining the winners and losers in all industries. 

Also read: CIOs gearing up to become ‘digital leaders’

Aron believes digitalization is transforming all types of companies and public sector agencies. More often than not, these transformations represent both massive opportunities and substantial challenges for the CIO and the IT organization. Digitalization is not only a way to gain a competitive edge, but also provides a powerful ability to flip disadvantages into advantages. CIOs therefore need to review with the enterprise and IT risk leaders whether risk management is adapting fast enough to a digital world.

However, the good news for CIOs, is that despite the rise of roles, such as the chief digital officer, they are not doomed to be an observer of the digital revolution. According the survey, 41 percent of CIOs are reporting to their CEO. This is a result of the digital narrative gaining prominence in the boardroom and on the executive committee. Even stronger evidence of opportunity for CIOs is the fact that the survey reveals that CEOs expect them to lead the digital charge during this critical transition period.

Even then, there are challenges. Perhaps the biggest hurdle when it comes to digital opportunity for CIOs is the fact that the IT discipline within most enterprises has developed a set of behaviors and beliefs over many years, which are ill-suited to exploiting digital opportunities and responding to digital threats.

The report shows, to start with, most enterprises still think of innovation in terms of the technology paradigm. If this continues, the digital opportunity may be lost. Digital leadership means flipping the approach from legacy first to digital first, assuming all solutions will be cloud based, designed for mobile and highly contextualized, and looking to exploit unstructured data, and run data-led experiments. Secondly, most enterprises and their CIOs disproportionately focus on what is easily measurable (e.g. IT cost), rather than what is most valuable or requiring the most attention (e.g., the value of building a digital capability). These are reasons enough for CIOs to ‘flip’ their information, technology, value and people leadership practices to deliver on the digital promise, says Gartner.

Also read: Successful Leaders Need Training Too

CIOs however are aware that they must invert their style to be more vision-led and inspirational, shows the survey, with 73 percent asserting they have changed their leadership style over the last three years, and nearly three-fourth saying they must change flip their leadership style from “control first” to “vision first” in the next 2-3 years.

Aron states, “When we compare the 2011 and 2015 Gartner CIO Surveys, we find that the average CIO is spending more, not less, time running the IT shop — five percent more, or an extra day per month.” However, highlighting the survey data he says that CIOs with higher performance as IT leaders spend significantly less time running the IT shop and delegate some business unit leader engagement. This gives them an extra five percent ‘time bonus,’ or a day per month, to engage the board, senior leadership and external customers.