This content is part of the Essential Guide: 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium guide: Digital disruption
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CIO role in digital projects hinges on understanding business models

For most companies, the journey to becoming a digital business has just started.  How do CIOs ensure they play a major role in their companies' digital transformations? For Peter Nichol, head of IT at Access Health CT, spearheading digital projects begins with understanding the business model.

"If you don't understand the business, regardless of your technical background, not too many people are going to listen," said Nichol. Plus, you can't change what you don't understand.

In the last installment of this three-part interview,  Nichol sat down with Site Editor Francesca Sales at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium to talk about how he builds people's curiosity in digital projects.

Digging deeper into your role as a CIO, and given the speed of all this technological change, do you think there is any other training involved in becoming a CIO, in addition to or other than on-the-job training? For example, can you go to school to be a CIO?

More from Peter Nichol at MIT

Why CIOs must master communicating the value of IT

The digital CIO's balancing act

Peter Nichol: There's always a balance between academic knowledge and how you practice it as a practitioner. … You have to understand your business first to be able to get any type of engagement. If you don't understand the business, regardless of your technical background, not too many people are going to listen. But if you understand that business model and understand the key challenges, now you have an opportunity to potentially offer solutions and get people curious about potential options, and if you can do that well, now you have a stake at the table, and now maybe you can lead some digital initiatives. It's that balance between digital capabilities and digital leadership, and you kind of get that involvement that ultimately helps transformation occur.

Part of what we're doing today is educating the rest of the organization. It's not really IT; I'm a technologist, but I consider myself a business executive first, and if we can apply technology, we will. If we can remove it, we will also remove it because it will be faster. A lot of times, it's, how do we get other folks educated to build their curiosity so it's not just IT driving these initiatives? It's the organization that thinks it's the right way to go. That's part of the opportunity that we have.

Let us know what you think of this story on digital projects; email Francesca Sales, SearchCIO site editor.

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