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CIOs play role of provocateurs, enablers in platform shift

Sam Ramji from the Google Cloud Platform explains why a successful platform shift requires a business-conscious CIO who turns to peers -- and the CEO -- for help.

For CIOs to be the hero of their organization's platform transformation story, they must look beyond managing IT and embrace a business-focused, collaborative mindset, says Sam Ramji, the vice president of product management for the Google Cloud Platform. At this year's Platform Strategy Summit hosted by the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, Ramji sat down with SearchCIO staff to discuss the biggest takeaways for CIOs when it comes to platform strategy. He explained that CIOs need to look to their peers, to the CEO, to the board and beyond when making a platform shift, and how CIOs play the role of provocateur and enabler.

What should be the major takeaways for CIOs when it comes to platforms and making the platform shift?

Sam Ramji: For CIOs thinking about platforms, the major takeaway is that transitioning your entire organization to a platform is a mandate, and you need to go and engage your CEO about it.

A decade ago, we might have said that CIO stands for 'career is over.' In the last decade, the CIOs I've worked with who are more durable and who have been successful aren't just managing IT. They're not just looking down. They're looking left and right at their peers. They're looking to the CMO. They're looking to the CFO. They're looking up to the CEO and maybe beyond that to the board and outside the firm into the broader market. The most important question to ask is, 'How am I bringing my CEO on board?' The CEO is the only person in any company who can really be an effective change agent to take industrial firms through the wrenching adjustments they need to make to become platforms.

Engage with your peers, engage with your leaders and have a core IT team that's ready to jump into the challenge of building a viable platform.

There is an imperative to transform some or all of your business into a platform, not just a technology platform to build on, but actually identify how you transform to become a multisided market. The CIO's job in that is both as a provocateur, to ask the questions, and as an enabler, because all of the optimization and enablement for multisided markets today happens through digital innovation.

A multisided platform -- with new consumers, new producers and maybe a whole new market with people who will pay for the data that's flowing into your business -- is going to be enabled by cutting edge IT. You will need to do the digital matching. You'll need data. You'll need [artificial intelligence] and a great programming environment. So, you can prepare yourself for that, but make sure that you're aligned to the business needs before you make the platform shift.

Partner with the business to make sure you know what the transactions are, provoke the conversations about 'What are we as a platform company?' and make sure that you have the engagement and leadership of the CEO and the expectations of the board to take you there. It would be a very lonely journey otherwise, and you will feel like nobody understands you and they never will. Engage with your peers, engage with your leaders and have a core IT team that's ready to jump into the challenge of building a viable platform, and go from there.

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