By Isaac Sacolick
The role of the CIO is changing. To deliver digital transformation — applying new technologies to radically improve or invent products, services and business models — the CIO needs to evolve from order taker to innovator.
Ten or fifteen years ago, we CIOs had a horizontal responsibility and a horizontal view of the business. The focus was primarily internal: How could IT give various business units what they were asking for.
We were essentially a service organization. We waited for businesses to come to us with requests while spending the bulk of our time supporting users and maintaining systems.
But today CIOs are being asked to challenge the organization. They’re being asked to consult with other C-suite leaders and to come up with initiatives and ideas to make the business better and build the brand. They need to be knowledgeable not just about proven technologies — the safe bets that can keep the lights on — but also about the cutting edge technologies that can deliver competitive advantage.
A recent Dell EMC/Forbes Insights survey gives us some hard numbers about this change. When asked how IT transformation had affected the role of the CIO:
- 71% reported that CIOs now help shape future business models and that CIOs have become strategic advisers charged with helping business units make the most of technology.
- 68% reported that CIOs are expected to work more closely with the C-suite to develop new business opportunities.
Think of this: Now, CIOs are viewed as a strategic adviser to business executives. And they are helping develop new competitive opportunities. That is a far cry from serving in a supporting role to the business as a service center.
Two of the ways this changes the CIO’s role have to do with data and agile development.
To learn more about how CIOs can lead companies through digital transformation, read Isaac Sacolick’s new book, “Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology.”
Data Governance for Business Insights
It’s hard to innovate if you don’t know what’s working and what’s not. And data silos are one of the challenges for CIOs looking to step into the role of organizational change agent.
The web team holds the digital analytics data. The finance department has budget data in an ERP system. The sales and marketing teams have all customer info in customer relationship management and marketing automation tools. But the organization lacks the centralized access to data needed to make meaningful strategic decisions.
It’s not just knowing what the sales numbers are. It’s understanding how, why and where customers are using specific products and services. It’s not just having a data dashboard for this or that application. It’s being able to collect data that you know is consistent and looking at the bigger picture of the organization’s business model and operations. Which markets need the most attention? Which products should be prioritized?
It’s the CIO’s job to apply the right technologies to deliver the right data to the right people, so they can answer these questions. Delivering this data requires integrating applications and connecting data repositories, establishing data governance policies, setting up data dictionaries, and identifying golden records for each data type that is used in the organization, so that data is consistent and reliable.
By implementing data quality governance, a CIO provides the C-suite and the IT organization the factual foundation for transforming the business and implementing products and services effectively.
So, how does that transformation take place?
Iterating Quickly With Agile Practices
Ten years ago, a CIO’s job was all about avoiding risk. A business unit needed an IT capability, and the CIO was responsible for implementing a safe, reliable technology.
Today’s CIOs need to be comfortable with risk. They need to be able to try new things, even though they can’t be sure they’re 100% right about the technology they’re using. If they’re cautious, if they hold back too long, the organization overall will lose its competitive edge.
I usually advise CIOs to begin digital transformation by selecting a few pilot projects and implementing them quickly. Instead of tackling year-long, all-or-nothing efforts that require approval from layers of stakeholders, identify a few key business opportunities you want to try and kick off a proof of concept, even if the selected technologies address only 75 percent of what’s ultimately needed. You want to be able to quickly build things, try them out, and then make any necessary corrections.
To work this quickly, it’s smart to use low-code development platforms that minimize the time and labor required to build and test new capabilities. A low-code development platform makes it possible to build projects in weeks and months, not years. And make updates in days, not weeks.
To manage these projects, CIOs need to implement application lifecycle management and make some hard choices quickly about trade-offs. They need to strive for reuse and scale while making allowances for technical debt. They need to drive transformation smarter and faster than CIOs of the past.
In this new, outward-looking, fast-paced world of IT, integration and data governance are more important than ever. They provide the connectivity and the content for innovations, delivering benefits both inside and outside the organization. They make digital transformation possible.
Want to be a change agent for your organization and drive digital transformation. Contact a Boomi integration expert today to learn how our cloud-native, low-code platform can help.
About the author: Isaac Sacolick is a veteran chief information office and is president of StarCIO, a digital transformation consulting service. He has been recognized as a top 100 social CIO, blogger, and industry speaker. He’s the author of Driving Digital: The Business Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology.