by Cory Crosland

How CIOs can guide digital business transformation

May 20, 2016
CIOEnterprise ApplicationsInnovation

The business and technology functions of an organization can no longer be viewed as separate, which is why the next generation of business leaders will be CIOs becoming CEOs.

Credit: Thinkstock

In my last article I discussed how legacy businesses have failed to proactively participate in developing a digital business, and that the CIO is in a perfect position to address this concern. Their business acumen and technology prowess are a formidable combination that all evolving digital businesses depend on. The following five characteristics separate the digital thinkers and best position them as the business leaders of tomorrow.

Evolution is imperative for survival

CIOs at traditional businesses have typically been the guardians of an organization’s technology. Weighing in on which applications will improve specific business tasks and reporting the anticipated value of technology to senior management.

In this role the CIO was first answering the question, “Do we need it?” As their role evolved, they’d take requests from business leaders and solve the technology problem and the question became, “How do we do it?” Now they must take the reins at a higher level by shepherding business strategy and answering the most important question about any company’s future, “What is it we need to do?”

CIOs need to immerse themselves in their company’s business and become the visionaries that see the business through the lens of a digital mindset. These CIOs will become indispensable to their organizations and by virtue of their unique understanding of technology and its business applications, become the next CEOs in a global digital marketplace.

View business strategy through the tech lens

CIOs are in the best position to identify new or extend existing digital business opportunities. More than ever before, management must rely on its technology leaders to reach beyond solving existing problems.

The ability to anticipate the future and transform their company into a digital business will earn them the CEO title. Technology decisions are not just about technology. They’re about marketing, sales, operations, communication — really everything the business touches. Understanding what technology is capable of is crucial to making the right, long-term decisions across all functional departments.

Build an all star team

As in any endeavor, your team will ultimately determine your relative level of success in a digital business. CIOs need to think beyond building a solid IT team and look for the digital business visionaries. Team members who live and breathe at the intersection of technology and strategy.

The winning foundation of your digital business will be built on a team of aspiring individuals who understand your business, your current market, potential new markets and view all of these through a digital lens. This pedigree of technology and strategy should be applied to the expectations of both your internal team and the external partners you work with. A collective culture that simultaneously shares ideas and is passionate about technology will lead to the creation of new and unique business offerings.

Get your hands dirty, collaborating and communicating

Now that you’ve assembled a top notch team of digital visionaries it’s time to put them to work. Gone are the days of top down management where your team has siloed skills and responsibilities, that executives can manage from a distance with cursory oversight.

CIOs, in particular, need to be in the middle of a collaborative web in order to inspire continuous innovation. It starts with taking the time to articulate the business vision to your team. As they engage, work alongside them and encourage their ability to explore and brainstorm for new ideas.

In turn, you must communicate your team’s ideas back to the rest of leadership and give credit to those team members that reached for the most original concepts. This is the very essence of cross functionality in a team where everyone feels like they genuinely work together. It requires a strong leader able and willing to both cede responsibility and encourage leadership from team members.

Give voice to the masses

As I’ve stressed previously, building a digital business cannot be done in a vacuum. It is essential CIOs develop and pay attention to critical input and feedback from both business leaders and technology experts. Remember it’s the CIOs responsibility to put the business and technology pieces together that form the ultimate digital business vision.

As your strategy moves forward you need to constantly reevaluate and measure your progress and position against the initial business vision. Always ask yourself, “does this satisfy our business goals.” It’s all too easy to over develop a digital platform that becomes bloated with non-essential features and functions that do not contribute to that business goal.

To avoid this CIOs need to work across the organization, welcoming input from all sources. They must be willing to cycle through the design and development processes continually, ensuring that these efforts do not stray from the mission critical business requirements.

No longer can the business and technology functions of an organization be viewed as separate parts of a larger whole. Market forces demand that businesses think digitally at every turn and technology is providing opportunities to do so that simply didn’t exist just a few years ago.

There has never been better time to be a CIO.