How successful CIOs think

The global march to digital transformation and the impetus to create the modern data-driven business is on. In every industry, in every line of business across every department and in every time zone worldwide, we’re connecting, collaborating, and moving towards digital transformation.

But it’s not quite that easy. You don’t just “turn on” digital overnight.

Successful CIOs that are further along the path to achieving digital workflow efficiencies are the ones that draw upon foundational business skills, yet have an ability to think differently. 

The essential building blocks to creating consensus and action around automating and integrating work processes through advanced technology are:

·       Knowing where your business is starting from

·       Defining your outcomes clearly

·       Being able to communicate succinctly

But there’s more. We need to take a step back.


Problems first, solutions second

Every organization will need to ask itself some tough questions.

Do you have an installed base of technology that is looking for a problem to solve? Or, do you have defined business challenges that are looking for technology solutions? 

I know which end of the scale I would rather be at. It is (obviously I hope) always better to define problems and challenges first—and then look for the right solution. Making that process actually happen can be tough, so it’s important to embrace strategic goals at the outset.


The signs are promising

If we look at the CIO Inflection Point study with Oxford Economics, we can see that on the journey towards prioritizing digital workflows, CIOs are increasingly likely to define their role as focused on strategy over operations (82% in the US versus 64% in other countries).


Inside-out to outside-in

The consumer-driven technology revolution has mandated an “outside-in” approach where start-ups look to specialize in one thing and do it really well. This contradicts the increasingly outdated “inside-out” approach of traditional industry, which included a monolithic bedrock of internal systems, processes, and skills.

There’s an important lesson here for CIOs. Initially at least, they need to look less at the technology itself and more at the business outcomes they seek to achieve. 

Once the CIO knows where they need to get to, then they can build an intelligent fabric of internal resources in a hybrid model that also embraces service-based technologies to achieve maximum efficiency, profit, and growth.


Behavioral models change

It’s all about thinking differently. It’s about the CIO knowing that people want to consume technology and services in different ways. 

Remember, Uber didn’t change the taxi industry. It changed the way consumers behave when they need to book taxis. Understanding that the IT automation advantage is there and then being able to harness it is key to success.

Looking at our own operation, ServiceNow recently moved to Office 365. We are interacting with smart chatbots that know where we are and what we need for what might seem like comparatively basic functions, like booking a meeting room. 

It is only comparatively basic perhaps, as historically that process would have been non-automated and would have taken lots of time. This is the mindset that the contemporary forward-thinking CIO needs to embrace to initiate change.

When that mindset epiphany happens, the business gets to enjoy lots of “delightful” moments when work—it could be arranging meetings, invoicing, or indeed any process that can be defined and managed—just gets done. 

This way, the core elements of work aren’t an issue for the CIO. This means they can then go off and start solving the big gnarly problems that need wider and deeper scale strategic thought. Again, it’s a question of thinking differently… and in this case it’s thinking big.


Talent and skills

We said at the start that you don’t just “turn on” digital business – and a big part of the journey for the CIO is making sure the organization has the requisite level of skillsets to work with new digital platforms. 

Looking again at the CIO Inflection Point study with Oxford Economics, US companies are more likely to focus on talent and skill strategies: 68% said they identify talent shortfalls, compared with 49% in other parts of the world.


Collaboration without analytics = chat

A key part of this shift in thought process is understanding how collaboration tools can create more managed and intelligent digital workflows. It’s no secret that these collaboration tools are all around us, but the question is: How do CIOs use them to make the work “actually flow” across the organisation?

What’s often missing in collaboration is the analytics side of the equation. Yes, we collaborated on a project, but was it meaningful? Was it compliant with current governance legislation? Did it move work towards the organisation’s strategic goals? And did it add business value? 

Often these tools are highly “chatty.” 

The collaboration discussions that are going on are not necessarily being categorized and then analyzed to see if a) we’re having the same discussion we had last week and b) whether we’re getting to a point where, for example, our workflow pipeline has improved as a result of the interactions carried out.


CIOs: Think Gen-Z

The modern CIO today may well be a Generation-X 50-something, already eyeing semi-retirement. Increasingly of course they will be 30-something Millennials. To be truly successful, the CIO is going to need to start thinking outside of either of those generational cohorts and consider the needs of the 20-something Generation-Z workforce now starting work.

Don’t forget, Gen-Z wants to be more involved and doesn’t necessarily value years of experience in quite the same way that the business world did 50 years ago. 

Whether that sense of entitlement is justified or not, the fact is that it represents a great energy, and a desire to work hard and innovate. So it needs to be captured, harnessed, and put to productive use. CIOs need to think about that, and so much more.

Once the modern CIO realizes that digital transformation starts in the head—not in the server room—then they can help create the new business systems of the future and help to make work, work better.     


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