Digital Is About Cooperation, Not Ownership

Last week I attended a CIO event in New York. I was invited to participate in a lunch table discussion on digital transformation and its impact on the role of the CIO. I heard a lot of extremely bright and effective CIOs talking about some of their challenges in their ability to impact and drive these transformations within their organizations. One of the prevailing themes that came up was the CIO’s role in leading this digital transformation.

Leadership is a tricky word. Most Americans of my generation grew up watching movies where the leaders were charismatic football coaches who drove their players to perform beyond what they thought they were capable, or perhaps heads of state who in their lonely world had to make unilateral decisions that impacted the course of mankind. These are certainly very dramatic but very real examples of one kind of leadership.

I would suggest to you that the type of leadership a CIO needs to exhibit to help his/her organization drive digital transformation is a very different kind of leadership. It is all about leadership through influence. 

I hear a lot of CIOs arguing about who should “own” digital. In reality I firmly believe that digital is not a “thing” that is “owned” by a specific executive or a specific department within an organization. Digital is a new way of doing business and a new way of engaging our consumers and prospects. 

The responsibility for digital is not “owned” by a single person but rather is the responsibility of the entire leadership of an organization. Success cannot be accomplished in a vacuum by brilliant business unit heads, savvy marketers or innovative technologists. Rather it requires the collaboration of all of these individuals, and more, to change the way we do business and the way we engage our community.

The role of the CIO is a role of leadership through influence. We need to be the glue that brings people together and gets them working in partnership. At certain times we may need to drive the bus. Other times we may need to help provide direction to a different driver. And sometimes we just need to be passengers on the bus to ensure it reaches its destination.

Too many people allow their egos to get in the way and are more worried about who owns digital than on ensuring we leverage new digital capabilities to drive business value. A real CIO leader is more focused on how we can work together to get results and add value than on who gets to accept the awards and take the bows.

Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at

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