What It Means to be a Digital-Ready CIO

EY Americas IT Transformation Leader David Nichols talks about how digital-ready CIOs are different than other CIOs, and how they are transforming the business landscape.

David Nichols

It seems that innovative and career-minded CIOs who aren't in a highly IT-intensive industry should make the transition to one.

It appears that in an IT-intensive industry, CIOs have a much greater job satisfaction than their non-IT-intensive industry counterparts. That greater sense of satisfaction is correlated with having the ability to impact the business via a digital transformation as these CIOs are more likely to be part of the executive management team.

In terms of gender diversity, CIOs in IT-intensive industries are three times more likely to be female than CIOs not in IT-intensive industries. And in the IT industry, five of the top 25 CIOs are female. Why is this?

IT-intensive industries appear to have made more of an effort to be inclusive. And they are better at attracting female CIOs since the CIO's role in the IT-intensive industries are more empowered and have a stronger voice in the organization. Unfortunately, these numbers are still too low.

Organizations, in general, should make a stronger effort in recruiting female talent for these CIO and other top IT roles. EY acknowledges this issue, and we have a long-standing effort in recruiting outstanding females and developing their skills while providing leading IT opportunities.

"Born to be Digital" notes that digital-ready CIOs innovate relentlessly, and it quotes an anonymous Chinese telecommunications CIO who says, "I spend 30 percent of my time on innovation." How can CIOs be more innovative?

CIOs can be more innovative by focusing more of their attention on exploring new ways of providing existing services or new products and services for the organization with the use of digital technologies. CIOs can provide these new ideas by inquiring their front-end businesses about opportunities for new client service delivery channels, along with innovating existing processes.

To the same degree, innovation relies on a corporate culture that accepts learning and allows failure, so a shift needs to be made if the organization does not embody this disposition. This is a good example of a situation in which digital-ready CIOs must balance their technical skills with their leadership and management skills.

Why is it important for CIOs to create a closer relationship with their CMO?

Digital technologies have impacted the business landscape in such a monumental way. It is a means for marketing and business development. The CMO provides the insights on customer trends and expectations and the CIO's responsibility is to deliver the systems and processes to exploit these insights. The CIO-CMO relationship is a bridge that makes it possible to reach new markets, new products and new opportunities.

"Born to be Digital" includes a lengthy section on the career paths of digital-ready CIOs. What are the key takeaways?

The career path of these digital-ready CIOs provides a great deal of insight as to the personalities, experiences and skills of these CIOs. The background of a digital-ready CIO typically includes a MBA or a business degree as management is an important aspect in the success of being a CIO. It's just as important to have the business acumen along with the technical expertise in this digital landscape. In accordance, the experiences of these CIOs in different sectors and roles provides the wide array of knowledge, such as marketing, messaging, market trends, etc., and the ability to think from different perspectives. All of this is needed in order to have a holistic understanding of the business and how digital technologies can enable the engines of growth.

What actions should CIOs take to create a digital enterprise where one doesn't already exist?

Before developing new functionalities or exploring new business ideas, there needs to be a foundational architecture. The foundational architecture is necessary to have an integrated environment that will be able to accommodate and maximize the effectiveness of future changes. In addition, the focus needs to be placed on data as the digital technologies, such as cloud computing, lessen the need to focus on applications and infrastructure. Standards and governance also needs to be in place to guide technology selection. The CIO must also have an understanding of the current operating model and business processes of the organization in order for the digital technologies to be strategically aligned with the rest of the business. In order for the CIO to manage the new, upcoming digital projects, the CIO must take a multidisciplinary approach by ensuring different internal functions interconnect with third parties. The CIO will also need to plan the sequence and pace of change based on the risks and opportunities associated with the digital opportunities.

This article was originally published on 05-16-2014
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