CXO

5 things CIOs need to lead digital transformation

Every business is becoming a digital business and it's changing the role of the CIO. Here are practical tips for becoming a transformational leader and an operations guru at the same time.

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Gartner analyst Darin Brumby offered advice on how to become a transformational digital CIO.

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

Analyst Darin Brumby strode into the open Gartner Zone Theater and told the mix of sitting and standing IT leaders two things they already knew:

  1. Growing a digital business is now essential for virtually every enterprise
  2. To pull it off, CIOs will need two diametrically opposed qualities—bigger visionary leadership and outstanding operational delivery

The big question, of course, is how. Figuring it out is one of the reasons that 8,000 attendees shelled out thousands of dollars to attend Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2016 in Orlando this week.

While Brumby's 30-minute session was attended by a few dozen CIOs in the corner of an expo tent—compared to the thousands who packed the main ballroom for the keynotes—it offered the most succinct summary of Gartner's advice for how CIOs can lead digital transformation.

Here's my quick summary:

1. Embrace an extended role overseeing all technology enterprisewide

Almost a third of IT spend now happens outside of the IT department—and outside of the IT budget. CIOs have to embrace a dual role of controlling traditional IT while advising the rest of the organization on the digital projects that they want to experiment with. While this can create new challenges and complexities, Gartner calls the new model "biomodal leadership" and believes that it offers great opportunities for companies to extend their digital capabilities. The bottom line is that it's the new reality, and it's only going to expand. "The traditional IT org structures are disappearing very, very quickly," said Brumby.

    SEE: Former Secretary of Defense: 'I have wasted more money on IT than anyone in history' (ZDNet)

    2. Create and deliver blended strategies

    When you build your IT strategies, be careful not to let traditional IT processes and procedures bog down business experiments. Look for common ground with business units and where IT can help enable their experiments. Think more like a software partner, who takes an "embrace and extend" philosophy to make a platform better, for example. Better yet, blend IT and business plans into experiments that can lead the way in the company and create a win-win. This can also apply to external partners as well. Brumby recommended CIOs sort their partners into three types: strategic partners, transactional partners, operational partners. Make sure you're devoting the most time to strategic partners.

    3. Strengthen and extend CIO influence, power, and governance

    "If you want everyone to understand IT's contribution to the business," said Brumby, "you must set out what success looks like in terms of the business." CIOs have a bit of branding problem. Many are still seen as operations and infrastructure jockeys. To change that, they have to ask themselves what they want to be known for. They have to be more consultative and helpful to their peers in the leadership ranks, understand what their challenges are, and offer digital solutions that are worth considering and/or be a sounding board for their digital plans. A recent Gartner survey found that 75% of executives expect digital to help double revenue. This creates a huge opportunity for the CIO to become an invaluable source of wisdom and advice.

    4. Drive innovative talent acquisition

    "Your job is to aggregate talent across the enterprise," said Brumby. It's as hard as ever to get the right skills, especially in hot IT specialties such as data science, devops, and UX. But, there will be new hot specialties next year and you'll still have trouble getting them, so you have to get creative and use new digital tools to help. For example, offer webcam interviews, post jobs on social media, and learn best practices for mining Linkedin connections for potential candidates. And, don't just do this for the IT department. Offer to help the rest of the organization use digital tools for finding and attracting the best talent.

    5. Expand flexibility and impact of CIO leadership style

    The CIO and IT leadership roles of the past were often about control—controlling spending, controlling business processes, controlling the way technology was used in the enterprise. It was done to keep people safe and drive massive business efficiencies. While today's CIOs need to maintain discipline and operational excellence, they have to change the culture of IT to become far more flexible. Brumby said CIOs don't need to just accept ambiguity but create it—and give some room to experiment. Again, that takes a more visionary kind of leader than the traditional efficiency wonk who has sat in the CIO chair. That means leading more by influence than by org chart. "We don't need to own people to lead people," said Brumby.

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    About

    Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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