CIOs take different paths to cultivating culture

CIOs have a tough call to make when joining an organization: Change the culture or build on the work of their predecessors? Here IT leaders and consultants share their experiences.

A workplace without WiFi is unimaginable at a time when consumers can tap or swipe a touchscreen to order everything from food to mattresses.

Yet that’s exactly what Lookman Fazal encountered in early 2019 when he became CIO of NJ Transit, New Jersey’s $4 billion public transportation system. Employees worked from desktops hard-wired to the internet, an impediment to working outside the office.

“We were 40 years behind from a technology perspective,” Fazal tells CIO.com. “IT was preventing collaboration and mobility.”

Fazal is hardly the only CIO to encounter legacy encumbrances, even if he’s among the few who will share the gory details. And while every digital overhaul has its technical hurdles, transforming an organization’s culture is more challenging. Thirty-three percent of 2,135 global executives polled by McKinsey cite cultural and behavioral challenges as the top barriers to digital transformation, followed by a lack of understanding digital trends (25 percent) and a lack of digital talent (24 percent).

“Culture sets the tone for organizational structures, types of technology, management techniques, and processes,” wrote Forrester Research analysts Dan Bieler and Ash Mukerjee in a research report, adding that culture can amplify business transformation if properly aligned with changes to technology.

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