How to prepare for digital transformation: the CIO as a strategic thinker

Man against window, thinkingWith only so many hours in the day, CIOs will need to rethink their priorities as they work toward shaping their enterprises for digital transformation. With more time required for strategic planning, operational IT work may have to take a backseat, with day-to-day responsibilities delegated to trusted colleagues.

What kind of CIO are you? Some technology leaders are skilled technicians who ensure their organizations’ lights never go out – that the company’s systems never fail and that its tools, networks and applications work efficiently and effectively. Others are more focused on the big picture: they spend more of their time thinking about the future of their organizations.

Both these roles are important and valuable to all enterprises, and most CIOs will already be doing at least some work in both areas. That will continue: in order to embrace the full potential of the digital revolution, CIOs will have to continue delivering on execution while also articulating a vision of where the organization is headed.

However, in digital-ready organizations, CIOs’ priorities have noticeably shifted from the former to the latter. While continuing to ensure their functions are on top of execution, in their own roles, digital-ready CIOs put more emphasis on strategic planning and implementation.

This is as it should be. The digital opportunity is huge, but so too is the workload of shifting the culture and mindset of an organization in order to embrace it. Without a CIO who is able to set the agenda for the digital enterprise and plan for achieving it, organizations will generally fall short of fully realizing their potential.

Inevitably, that means day-to-day operational issues may take up less of a CIO’s time than in the past. And effective delegation and teamwork will be a crucial part of ensuring the organization can still rely on its technologies and systems.

But with such responsibilities sensibly devolved to those trusted to achieve them, CIOs will ensure they have the time available to channel their energies into enablement and corporate development.

In practice, the strategic work of preparing for digital transformation includes:

  • Setting the vision
    Painting a picture of what the enterprise can achieve, in terms of its current and future business objectives, through digital opportunities.
  • Laying out implementation
    This vision will need to work in practice as well as in theory. You will need an achievable implementation plan that sets out credible steps for evolving the organization from where it stands today.
  • Prioritizing innovation
    Digital enterprises are able to capitalize on new opportunities wherever they occur – whether that’s in the provision of new products and services to customers or in transforming internal processes to boost efficiency and lower costs.
  • Considering the business model
    CIOs cannot hope to deliver on digital transformation without fully understanding the strategic rationale of the wider business and all its functions – developing this understanding and considering the shift to digital in this context will be a key part of the CIO’s strategic challenge.
  • Continuing to focus on strategic vision
    Digital transformation will be an ongoing theme for all organizations, rather than a one-off exercise, so the shift in the nature of the CIO’s role is going to be permanent. CIOs who allow operational IT issues to overwhelm them will not be able to deliver the strategic thinking required.

There is no shame, by the way, in personal ambition. Making the shift from a focus on execution to strategic thinking will raise the profile of a CIO both within their organization and beyond.

The rest of the C-suite also understand the need for digital transformation and want a CIO who can lead them through the transition. The most effective strategic CIOs are already highly prized. If you want to find out how digital ready you are access our little self-assessment.


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