What It Means to be a Digital-Ready CIO

By Jack Rosenberger

If you’re an ambitious and career-minded CIO, you want to work in a highly IT-intensive industry, like banking, IT, life sciences, media and telecommunications. Why? Because CIOs in these sectors are better suited to transform their business—and subsequently achieve their career aspirations—than their peers in other sectors. That’s one of the key conclusions from EY’s recent “Born to be Digital: How Leading CIOs are Preparing for a Digital Transformation” report, which provides an in-depth view of how CIOs are deploying digital technology in today’s enterprise.

The EY report is based on interviews with more than 180 CIOs and CTOs in highly IT-intensive industries, and these individuals were compared with peers in other sectors. Essentially, “Born to be Digital” is an in-depth analysis of how tech-savvy CIOs are transforming companies like Caterpillar, which is in the process of digitizing its construction and mining equipment, so that its graders, trucks and other heavy equipment can be proactively identified before any maintenance or service is needed. “Born to be Digital” explains how these “digital-ready CIOs” are different than their peers, what lessons can be learned from their business transformation efforts, and offers plenty of career advice for CIOs who aspire to be digital leaders. (For a copy of the report, click here.)

According to “Born to be Digital,” CIOs at highly IT-intensive firms are better equipped to transform their business because they are more likely to have a seat at the executive management table (53 percent of CIOs in highly IT-intensive sectors vs. 17 percent of CIOs in other sectors), and they understand the skills, like strong strategic engagement and a focus on growth, that are needed for success. In general, these CIOs are more likely to devote their time to the development of new products and services for the front office, and they better understand the importance of communication and influencing skills in attaining their strategic goals than their colleagues in other sectors.

A digital-ready CIO, as defined by EY, rates an 8 or higher, on a scale of 1 to 10, in his or her performance of six vital roles: managing costs, keeping the lights on, acting as an information broker, taking ownership of IT governance, delivering transformation, and bringing business model innovation.

To learn more about “Born to be Digital,” CIO Insight recently interviewed EY Americas IT Transformation Leader David Nichols, who discussed, among other topics, the six traits of a digital-ready CIO, how to be more innovative, gender diversity, career paths and why knowing “tech” but not “the customer” is fatal.

What most surprised you about “Born to be Digital”?

David Nichols: Even for the IT-intensive industry CIOs, only half of them have a seat at the executive management team table. This statistic shows that most corporations still view the CIO’s role as being only part of the back-office operations, not as a strategic component of having an impact on the business front. This is very surprising as the technological landscape has changed so much over the past few years. One would think that CIOs would have more input in how technology can help the business.

Tell our readers about the six core traits of digital-ready CIOs and how these CIOs think differently than other CIOs.

What we found is digital-ready CIOs have these traits in common:

1.    They have a strategic vision of how technology will transform the business and know how to implement it. For instance, they may implement construction management or lien management software if the company is in the construction industry. These CIOs are proactive and have the mindset that their role is no longer focused on just operations, but on how to strategically impact the growth of the business.

2.    Digital-ready CIOs innovate relentlessly. Digital-ready CIOs understand the importance of technology innovation because digital presents new revenue channels, as well as new forms of significant cost optimization.

3.    They focus closely on driving growth and the relationships they need to support this effort. This trait of driving growth ties closely with the proactive nature of digital-ready CIOs. They know that technology can drive growth for the business, so they must understand the front end of the business operations along with the back end. The relationships with the front end of the business would need to be fostered in order to know how technology can boost sales.

4.    These CIOs ensure that their vision is understood. Communication is imperative as the message of how the technology will impact the business is necessary in order to get the buy-in for the proposed vision.

5.    Digital-ready CIOs move beyond operations and infrastructure. Unlike the traditional CIOs where the focus has been on back-office operations, these CIOs focus on innovation for the business, such as enhancing business processes or technology that will drive sales.

6.    These CIOs are courageous risk-takers. They take the calculated risks associated with the digital opportunities that are focused on the business, which is unlike most CIOs, who are risk aversive and stick to a “keeping the lights on” mentality.

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