Thursday, June 13, 2013

IT as Frontrunner in Business Transformation

If an organization does not demonstrate readiness to change, no exogenous influence will produce it.

Organizations large and small are heading to digital transformation; IT has been pushed out of its comfort zone as back office and become a frontrunner in business transformation. 

Why is the CIO asked to do so much in what is essentially a business initiative- Business Transformation? Is IT ready or what’s the competitive advantage for IT to play such a critical role? Will CIOs turn to be ‘scapegoat’ when things go wrong?

1. IT is Pervasive in Modern Business

Technology is pervasive, Business Transformation or business initiatives today nearly always involve some forms of technology implementation and/or data analysis; IT touches both hard business processes and soft human behavior. IT has the necessary structure/ methodology/tool in shaping the new box of thinking and managing the emergent digital complexity with the new characteristics such as hyperconnectivity, hyper-diversity, and hyper-dynamism.

  • It takes effective strategy, transcendent knowledge, and measurable execution to achieve a high-performance result: IT departments usually have the necessary project management skills and experience; therefore, it’s a natural choice when it comes to heading up transformation. 
  • Success criteria need to be assigned to appropriate groups in the project charter: If a technology solution is expected to enable a major process change or organizational reorganization, the people who are best able to effectuate the change once the solution is in place will have to be bought in and accept responsibility to make it happen. It’s the best protective mechanism that IT can employ to prevent itself from being cast as the profligate villain. 
  • Avoid Project Pitfalls: (1) Poorly defined scope and objectives – the hardest task on any project is defining what is required, but time and time again project teams are forced to “show results” and not waste time when everyone knows what is needed. (2) Lack of availability of key personnel. In most instances, this is down to the pressure of the day job, but sometimes it’s deliberate avoidance. (3) Politics – there will be those who do not agree with the change and will actively work against it.  

2. The CIOs’ Niche Leadership

Historically CIOs have been front-runners in transformation initiatives and it is anticipated that they'll bring their learning, best practices and working knowledge of past transformations into newer initiatives. The CIO as Chief Initiative Officer has become necessary to manage strategic alignment from concept to post-implementation of all initiatives from the C-level to the front lines. CIOs are also quite eager and enthusiastic to drive challenging transformation initiatives.

  • Understand both Business and Technology well: Most of the executive peers do not have a deep understanding of technology/process while effective CIOs have to know both the business and the technology side of things. You cannot know only one piece of the equation. 
  • Deal with Uncertainty: Because CIOs need to deal with constant ambiguity, they naturally gravitate to a leadership role when things are unknown, things will change, technology is involved, a tough problem has to be solved, etc. As when things go wrong, and they usually do, the CIO can be blamed. 
  • The CIO needs to play a critical role in such business transformations: IT needs to become an innovation engine for business growth, the information provides the lifeblood for any organization to make a data-driven decision and capture business insight, IT enables all critical business processes, which underpin business capabilities in enabling such transformation. So the CIO's office is the first stop for the management to discuss a large transformation initiative. 
As CIOs will continue to be put on the front line, they need to ensure their organization is ready for change, space and time are made to scope, plan and execute the project. And more importantly, the transformation is not only about technology solution, as many CxOs have an "if we build it, they will come" philosophy, in which developing transformative technology solution is expected to be the catalyst that drives change in their organizations. It simply doesn't. If an organization does not demonstrate readiness to change, no exogenous influence will produce it.


I absolutely agree that digital transformation is a mega-important aspect of any company's activity. It wasn't until we contacted the JD Young experts that we realized how much success, and therefore business productivity, could increase.

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