For years, I have thought that the invention of the internet – or of e-commerce, more specifically — would be the great technical disruption of our time. I was wrong. The digital disruption – mobility, big data, and social media – will be more impactful to our economy and our lives, I would wager, than the online revolution ever was.
Companies who are not thinking hard – across the executive suite – about how they will position themselves in the digital landscape may find themselves woefully unprepared for the next ten years. For CIOs, “digital” represents an opportunity to leverage technology like never before, or to be usurped by other executives (like CMOs) who are focusing more acutely on their company’s digital future.
The program directors of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, coming right up on May 21, are well aware of how important it is that CIOs step up as digital leaders. This year’s Symposium is aptly titled Lead Your Digital Enterprise Forward: Are you ready for the next digital revolution? and features some of the world’s leading thinkers on all things digital.
Andrew McAfee, co-author with Erik Brynjolfsson of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of BrilliantTechnologies and Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy will offer a keynote that addresses “The Second Machine Age”; Tom Davenport, of MIT’s Center for Digital Business will moderate a panel on “Big Data, Analytics and Insights,” and George Westerman, co-author of The Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value, will discuss how CIOs, CMOs, and CDOs each view digital transformation.
In addition to featuring thought leaders on the digital era, the Symposium also includes CIOs with hard-won experience in digital leadership. Adriana Karaboutis, CIO of Dell, Roger Gurnani, CIO of Verizon, and Rebecca Rhoades, CIO of Raytheon, for example, will discuss how they have capitalized on digital technologies in their companies.
Why all this focus on digital? “We’ve been talking about digital for years now,” says Lindsey Anderson, Chair of the Symposium, “But recently, there has been such an accelerated pace of change in the digital landscape, that we feel it’s important to have another focused conversation on the topic.”
In order for CIOs to play a leadership role in digital transformation, says Anderson, they will need to forge even stronger partnerships with other business leaders, especially with CMOs. “Neither the CIO nor the CMO will emerge as the singular digital leader,” says Anderson. “There needs to be a fully integrated partnership between the two executives. There are areas of the business that the CMO knows better than the CIO and vice versa. They need to work together; for that reason, we have a Symposium panel that addresses different ways they can improve in that area.”
Why, I asked Anderson, does there tend to be tension between marketing and IT when it comes to digital strategies? “Marketing wants to do things quickly,” he says, “but there are certain technical constraints that get in the way of those timelines. When the CMO moves ahead without adhering to those constraints, and spends marketing budget on technical resources, problems arise around governance, security and integration. That causes tension.”
So, if that’s the cause, then what’s the solution?
“That’s the question of the day,” says Anderson, “And there is no evidence of an easy answer, but companies need to figure it out. When it comes to companies managing their digital strategies, it’s either evolve or perish.”
Anderson believes that the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium will go a long way toward helping attendees succeed on the evolutionary path. “We are combining the thought leadership of MIT with the in-the-trenches experience of CIOs who are leading their digital strategies,” he says. “We are confident that our audience will come away with insights and networking opportunities that will provide them with a great deal of value on this critically important topic.”
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.