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Thinking through the CIO role in digital transformation

The CIO role in digital transformation is not about technology. It's about understanding how technology can help capture business value. Expert Dan Morris makes the case.

We are in the thick of the digital technology era -- there is little doubt about that.

No one knows if this technology period will prove to be a blessing or a curse for CIOs. But we already know that success will not be determined by the business executives and CIOs of today who have been schooled in the cost-reduction mode of the past 15 years.

Business success in the digital technology era is driven by technology, but technology is not what digital transformation is really about. It is about the ability to envision how technology can be used to capture business value. And for CIOs, it is about creating a new IT operation that is focused on one overriding capability: rapid, minimally disruptive, low-cost, low-risk change.

To be able to support rapid, minimally disruptive, low-cost, low-risk change, CIOs will need to know what every technology can do and what it will take to do it. But the CIO role in digital transformation will not be focused on running an IT shop and making certain the staff do a good job. In the digital technology era, that role is executed by the CTO or some other new position responsible for the operations of the technical environment and its constant re-engineering as the company strives to keep up with how customers want to do business with it.

The CIO role in digital transformation is not some far-off goal -- it is happening now. CIOs are moving into the executive suite and taking on more business responsibilities, including leading their companies' digital business transformation initiatives.

And make no mistake, this role change for CIOs will only accelerate, as the line between technology and business operations continues to blur. Indeed, every midsize and large company today is already in the technology business; they simply cannot exist without IT. But not just any old IT.

In the digital technology era, CIOs are strategists and orchestrators. They will need to be technology visionaries and monitor customer technology buying patterns and trends.

Companies need cost-effective technology that can help them meet customer demands for fast and personalized service. Second-generation business process automation tools, coupled with robotic process automation bot generation, will soon become the new standard. And, while it will take time, these two technologies will be used to replace all legacy applications. Why? Because they are cost-effective and they give companies unparalleled flexibility. This move away from legacy technologies has significant implications for the CIO.

CIOs at the forefront of digital transformation are strategists and orchestrators. They are technology visionaries and they vigilantly monitor customer technology buying patterns and trends. While they need to know the capabilities of the available technology, the CIO role in digital transformation covers three major tasks: 

  • orchestrate how all the available, disparate technical components will be used in solutions;
  • demonstrate how they will combine to support enterprise processes; and
  • calculate how each solution will impact both the business operation and customer interaction demands.

In this way, the CIO becomes the key to technology and business integration -- ensuring that the IT capabilities allow the company to quickly adjust to the customer and the market. The digital-age CIO espouses a philosophy of flexibility and rapid response. This philosophy, in turn, drives the redesign of the company's IT infrastructure to reduce technical complexity and the rethinking of how applications will be built.

Thus, the CIO functions as part of the OPEX management group, playing a key role in shaping a business strategy and explaining how the business and IT l need to evolve in order to implement that strategy.

Because it will take time to make these changes, the sooner CIOs begin to accept this new reality, the more time they will have to evaluate, plan, adjust roles and rethink how IT will best serve the company of the future.

Next Steps

More from Dan Morris

How to upskill IT for business transformation

Business process management system tools drive software development

Howe to bridge legacy apps and new tech

This was last published in July 2017

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