How the CIO can become a digital leader



The CIO role has become central to the success of businesses as they move through the process of digital transformation. IDG research clearly shows that many CIOs have taken on a strategic mantle, with 40% of CIOs in a strategic role. And line-of-business (LOB) leaders agree; more than half see the CIO as a key partner in leading digital transformation initiatives. It is now abundantly clear that CIOs have already taken the first steps toward a digital leadership role, working with business leaders to drive even greater successes in the future.

"The next step in the evolution of the CIO role is to become the digital leader of the business"

As Steven Frieder, President of the Americas at Adobe has noted, “The next step in the evolution of the CIO role is to become the digital leader of the business. The key difference between the current role of the CIO and digital leadership is that digital leaders drive the identification—along with the deployment—of new digital work processes and solutions.”

This is not to say that the CIO must know more about the operations of a functional unit (sales, marketing, manufacturing, etc.) than those that manage that group. Rather, CIOs will provide two critical perspectives that will put them in a leadership position.

The first is to utilize their comprehensive understanding of the entire organization’s digital systems to identify workflows that can be utilized by departments other than those that are currently using a specific digital system. The second is to provide a perspective of how new game-changing technologies (AI, augmented/virtual reality, machine learning, etc.) can provide value to a specific functional operation.

However, the CIO cannot become a digital leader without strong and effective relationships with key functional LOB managers as well as senior management. The key is to share issues and needs at a level where the CIO’s perspective of the overall digital infrastructure and emerging technologies can be refined to provide valuable leadership. Ensuring that the vision is also beneficial to the employees within the group is also part of taking a leadership role. New digital systems will have a substantial impact on the employee experience, and for leadership to be effective, it is essential that the digital vision enhance that experience and is aligned with the experiences and expectations of the workers.

A good example of how this might work is seen in projects to enhance the customer experience, one of the two primary business initiatives that were identified by both CIOs and business executives in the IDG research. Improving CX will require the CMO and CIO to work together. A leadership CIO drives the project several ways. First is to help the marketing team understand how automation using AI and machine learning can provide a speed and efficiency advantage to improve CX. Second, and more of a traditional point of leadership, is to ensure that data privacy and security requirements are intrinsic to the digital design of the improved CX. Customers that aren’t sure their data is protected will not engage with the brand. A third example is to help the marketing team understand which enterprise applications hold untapped customer information that can be leveraged to deliver enhanced CX.

According to Frieder, “The role of the CIO will become increasingly important as organizations go digital. Yet there are differences between the strategic CIO and the CIO who is the digital leader.”

Moving from a collaborative position to a leadership position is possible for CIOs who leverage their perspective and understanding of the business benefits of new technologies and the digital systems inventory. It is a somewhat nuanced difference, but CIOs who are digital leaders provide much greater value to the business.

More information about digital leadership can be found here.