Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is CIO the Leader to Mind the Gap between the Age of Industry and the Era of Digitalization

A Bridging-like CIO  has the mind to think via the multidimensional lens, has the gut to innovate fearlessly; has the strategy to lead wisely and has the skill to move progressively. 

Most of the C-level executives including CIOs are transactional leaders who keep the light on and focus on the short term quarterly result. Now we are approaching the inflection point in which businesses are facing accelerating changes and can be disrupted even overnight, which CIO shall you become the transactional CIO to keep your hands busy, or the senior advisor style to spend more time on leveraging business strategy? Are you a gatekeeper to control the legacy IT system and continue to live in industrial silos, or are you the digital pioneer and Chief Innovation Officer to bridge the age of industry and the era of digitalization?

CIOs need to be the change agent to step into the void of digital leadership: Most CIOs do not realize that they are change agents in their daily functions. It is an inevitable journey even though it is not often recognized. So how do CIOs make an impact on the C-Suite to persuade them about the potential IT can make for their business, either be disrupted, or become the digital disrupter? IT also plays a significant role in shaping organization’s culture through applying the latest technologies to empower employees working more creatively and productively, and enable cross-functional communication and collaboration; CIOs as the change agent can also scale up the agile manifesto, to improve value-added project success rate across the organizations, and advocate customer-centricity relentlessly. 

The “I” in CIO’s title represents more as INNOVATION: Innovation is certainly messy but would you agree that it is a key requirement in IT given all the moving parts and strategic changes that happen in business, IT must become the business’s innovation engine because it’s always one of the most critical ingredients in building business’s differentiate capabilities and improving organizational level maturity. Innovation is squishy. We hear so many people say, "we need to be innovative." Or we need to create a culture of innovation. Then - the field dwindles when the discussion comes to "how." People that step out and take actions to drive disruption are needed - and often lead to new products and services that are considered innovative. We don't have a choice on innovation. We can choose to direct it rather than just let it happen. And it can happen in so many ways that you can hardly miss. IT has so many issues to tackle. But one constant continues to haunt "innovation" and its "value." The ultimate innovation isn't what you do; it's what you deliver for results. 

It’s not lack of innovators, but the lack of the eyes to recognize them and lack of guts to empower them. The right talent may not be easy to get on the “bus” due to the traditional talent recruiting practices and culture of risk avoidance. In searching for CIOs, the act of identifying innovators is discouraged, CxOs will tell you that innovators are "too technical" for the boardroom, and then tell you how ineffective their chosen CIOs are. Innovation is messy, inconvenient, hard to quantify and seemingly random, none of which plays well in the boardroom. Great CIOs exist, but with traditional recruiting practices, they just aren't getting the job smoothly.

 A common challenge for many CIOs seems to be learning the progressive skills. Innovation is crucial; however, it can't be done at the expense of keeping the operations running and progressing. Humanity had long figured out how to represent complex, real-world objects in symbolic languages, including those with only two elements (people and process) before the modern computer were conceptualized. Driving digital change isn't always sexy or groundbreaking. It involves hiring/firing for the right talent, setting up the crucibles to allow for greater innovation within the teams that are close to the product development/ marketing/sales/ distribution teams. Collaborating strategically across lines of business, understanding and speaking as a business executive (not just a technology executive), while having the technical chops and understanding to keep the organization moving are all required - plus that something more that is often hard to put your finger on.

A bridging-like CIO adds business value for digital transformation: The choice of what would deliver value requires an understanding of the business. CIOs will get a lot more respect when they start showing themselves capable of translating business requirements into business results. The company is growing but is currently strapped for capital, shall you invest in tools to get more utilization out of the current base, or just cut the budget? One is easy (cut), one is harder (utilization), but utilization allows your business to grow and requires positive action. Is that innovative? It sure can be. Innovation is not an end, it's a means to the end.

CIOs are in the unique position to oversee the business, they need to have the portfolio of skills to lead the digital transformation, change and innovation are certainly significant, and the CIO's real challenge is how do you move the ‘needle’ forward, and really mind the digital gap to accelerate your organization’s digital transformation.


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