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"To succeed in the digital age, organisations must have the courage and vision to re-configure, and the boldness to disrupt others’ markets – as well as their own."

rob mettler, PA digital business EXPERT

CIOs in the driving seat for digital business?

Digital technology is transforming business, requiring organisations to rethink their customer propositions, their markets, the capabilities they need, the way they organise themselves and the way they behave. 

The scale of change underway means IT is no longer an adjunct to the business, with the primary role of keeping the wheels turning. It is increasingly becoming the business – fundamental to the way the organisation builds relationships with customers, delivers products and services, and positions itself in the market.

What implications do these dramatic changes have for CIOs? Will they prove to be key players in steering their organisations successfully into a now undeniably digital world? Or will they take a backseat and let others set direction?

These were some of the questions CIOs from a wide range of organisations addressed at a PA-hosted event in London. Debate focused on the following key themes:

Whole-board commitment is key

The CIO can act as an adviser and guide to the board, but cannot drive the digital agenda alone. The commitment of the whole board is required to make change a reality. This extends to developing a culture where there is space and time for innovation. 

Change requires courage

Some boards are frightened at the prospect of change that will cannibalise their existing business. But those that resist the digital tide risk being left behind, leading businesses that have become irrelevant. As one guest put it, boards must either ‘go big or go bust’. Does the senior team, including the CIO, have the courage needed for change?

Can CIOs become risk takers?

When radical new ideas are proposed, the facts required to build a watertight business case are rarely available. For traditionally risk-averse CIOs this will be a challenge. Can CIOs break out of their traditional role as protectors and controllers to take risks and drive bold new digital initiatives?

Short-term thinking risks future profits

Pressure from shareholders often causes boards to adopt conventional measures to deliver the desired financial results in the short term – CIOs are not immune to this pressure. But embracing digital technologies, and reshaping the business model to capitalise on them, will prove to be a more effective route to securing profits in the long term.

IT governance needs to evolve

Customers’ and employees’ instinctive use of digital technology means they’re running ahead of businesses and, in many cases, the IT function is struggling to keep up. Some guests argued that IT governance needs to be loosened to give employees flexibility to use technology in new ways; others argued that governance needs to be tighter to protect the organisation’s IT framework from the burgeoning use of new technology.   

Silos get in the way of digital business

In the digital business, data, resources and strategy need to flow across the enterprise, so IT systems need to be shared and standardised business wide. CIOs will need to promote digital solutions that break through the barriers thrown up by conventional business silos.

Is there a role for a Chief Digital Officer?

Will the role of the CIO be split in future, with a traditional CIO continuing to be responsible for ensuring that the business has the IT it needs to function, and a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) leading digital initiatives? Or does this idea of a CDO suggest that we still really don’t ‘get’ digital? Are we are thinking of digital as a separate entity to business when digital now is business.

Perspectives on the future role of the CIO vary from organisation to organisation and from sector to sector. The one certainty is that CIOs who fail to adapt their roles to reflect the realities of the digital age risk becoming as redundant as those businesses that fail to embrace digital change.

To take part in the debate on the role of the CIO in digital business, join our digital CIO discussion group.

To find out more about future digital business and CIO events, contact us now.

Anita Chandraker
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Kevin O’Shaughnessy
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