Forrester: Three competencies CIOs need to master digital disruption

CIOs need three competencies to keep pace with digital disruption. Plus, do you play soldier, captain or general in digital disruption?

Many CIOs recognize that their role now is less about operations and more about customer and business outcomes. Still, many CIOs struggle with three competencies central to running today's digital enterprise: enabling agile business operations, driving product and process innovation, and boosting customer engagement.

  • Enabling agility in business operations: Whether you are a B2B or B2C company, digital is poised to invade and disrupt how you do business and win customers. The transportation industry is being disrupted by mobile technology applications such as Uber and Hailo. Both applications use mobile technology to expedite the process of finding a cab and paying the fare. Delivering this service requires business agility processes that provide customer and market responsiveness, allow for change management, and cater to the digital mind-set. With a motto like Hailo's -- Two taps and two minutes from tap to taxi -- you can be sure the technology is oriented to serve the customer's needs instantly.
  • Playing offense on product and process innovation: CIOs who develop new business models have started disrupting their industries and delivering significant competitive advantage to their organizations. L'Oréal has stayed on the offensive by employing free and nearly free digital tools to create enterprise social networks. L'Oréal's network, which is based on Salesforce.com's Chatter platform, helps reps and stylists work together to plan events on behalf of multiple brands and share styling techniques and beauty trends.
  • Delivering on customer engagement: Customers have come to expect that technology should practically be able to read their minds, delivering hyper-personal functionality and content when and where they need it. It's truly the Age of the Customer, and these customers want all of the brands they do business with to deliver tailored services. CIOs at companies like Xeneta are capitalizing on this by using technology to provide detailed freight shipping and pricing quotes to customers. Xeneta's system has broken down transparency barriers traditionally associated with freight pricing and has helped customers get what they need when they need it.

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CIO as soldier, captain and general in digital disruption

There are three essential functions and responsibilities of a disruptive CIO: soldier, captain and general. These roles can change based on types of initiatives, culture of the company, and relationships among business and technology leaders.

Effective management across these three competencies will be a complex undertaking for any CIO. It will require clarity in roles, ownership and operations. Your role as CIO will vary, depending on your organization's context. But there are three essential functions and responsibilities of a disruptive CIO: soldier, captain and general. These roles can change based on the type of initiative, culture of the company, and relationships among business and technology leaders. It is plausible that a CIO is a general in one initiative and a soldier in another, but most would default to one of these three roles, which are described below.

  • The soldier focuses on execution. Soldiers are primarily order-takers focused on executing the order. They offer technology mastery and project management. Soldiers focus on delivering consistent, reliable technology to their organizations. CIOs find themselves fulfilling the soldier role when a technology is brought to the IT department's attention and requires implementation for the business, upkeep and monitoring.
  • The captain excels at collaboration. Captains are essential stakeholders, responsible for contributing to business outcomes. The captain works closely with one or more business leaders to develop and deliver business outcomes. They have a moderate amount of autonomy, but are most successful in jointly working with business leaders to achieve success. CIOs tend to play the captain role in situations where they are aligned with business units on a technology solution from start to finish. They help test and provide feedback on potential technology changes, vet and hire third-party resources, and stay involved after implementation to manage updates.
  • The general leads digital disruptions. With some digital innovations, the CIO will be front and center, running the show. Generals are change agents focused on leading their organizations through digital disruptions -- changing the existing paradigms and perspectives and truly becoming a business leader instead of a technology leader. CIOs fit into the role of general when they are involved in the inception of ideas around innovation and disruption. This gives CIOs the opportunity to create and help implement technology based on a strategic vision for the company's future.

About the author:
Khalid Kark  is a vice president and research director serving CIOs at Forrester Research.

This was first published in November 2013
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