Super CIOs need to come to the rescue

17 Jun 2015

This article originally appeared in DisruptiveViews

Digital technology is no longer the domain of IT departments, and rightfully so. As traditional enterprises come to grips with all the digital world entails, management can no longer rely simply on IT to advise on digital strategy because there’s a lot more than just technology to deal with.

This is supported by a recent Harvard Business Review, “Driving digital transformation: New skills for leaders, new role for the CIO” that surveyed 436 business leaders. This global survey found that “while CEOs generally understand the strategic opportunities and threats of digital business, many have yet to build and communicate a vision for their companies or to develop a strategy to make that vision a reality. And most organizations’ functional leaders lack the skills and knowledge they need to execute a digital strategy, even if there’s one in place.”

It’s hard to even contemplate that any business is yet to address the digital world considering it will probably be integral to their future survival. What is really scary is that only 19% of those CEOs surveyed felt their company was strong in both digital leadership and management; 47% had partial strength and 34% felt they were downright weak. Hardly comforting figures, are they?

So, CEOs have plenty to worry about, but whom do they turn to for advice on all matters digital? CIOs certainly come to mind first – they can and should play a pivotal role here—as evangelists, leaders, and digital coaches.

Some best practices also emerged from this research. These included embedding IT staff in the lines of business so that learning happens during the course of work and for them and their teams to communicate in language that makes sense from the perspective of business activities and outcomes. This is more like a call to arms for CIOs to be proactive about educating and empowering business leaders with quality digital learning support.

How many times have we had to face that challenge over the years – IT communicating with business and vice-versa? But it seems with the demise of the CTO, the role has fallen squarely into the hands of the CIO – a title far less threatening to the business leaders, especially the chief marketing officer (CMO) they must partner with to bring together the best from both domains.

But, as the survey points out “CIOs can’t do this alone; it takes a whole team of digital ambassadors and coaches.” They also need to improve the way they communicate, as well as carve out the time to create forums for digital learning. While the human resources department would seem the natural partner in this, HR leaders were rated the weakest of all the function heads when it comes to digital acumen. It sounds like a cat chasing its own tail – HR is not well versed in identifying the digital skills of candidates the company needs to build the company’s internal digital communications skills.

If digital acumen is becoming a critical enabler of business on all fronts and at all levels and there is a huge gap between what’s needed and the current state inside companies today, how best can the issue be resolved?

This starts with a well-formulated digital vision and strategy and then moves into management – putting in place the people, processes, and technology to realize that vision. At the same time, companies should invest in both formal and informal learning forums and provide the means for people to try out new things in a safe environment—another area where IT can help.

What seems to be a common thread through the whole report, and is probably key to the digital success of any enterprise is having a digital evangelist that is not only knowledgeable in digital matters and can clearly communicate the vision, but also has the skills to carry out the plan.

Most important of all, he has to have the trust and support of the CEO and major stakeholders that lack digital experience and may fear the move into the unknown. Sounds like a job for Super CIO!

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