Tuesday, November 1, 2016

CIOs as "Chief Instrument Officer": Mastering the Complexity of the Digital CIO Role

The digital CIO role is like the spinal cord for the organization.

Due to the abundance of information and the omnipresence of technologies, IT plays a pivotal role in the business’s digital transformation journey. Therefore, digital CIOs have to wear multiple hats and play different roles in information-abundant organizations today. Nowadays, the CIO is not just managing IT to keep the lights on, but managing information to ensure the right people getting the right information at the right time to make the right decisions; and take visionary leadership in orchestrating digital transformation journey smoothly. Transformation means to change the “nature” of something, albeit that the increasing pace of technological advances has clearly impacted the nature and scope of opportunities, digital transformation represents a break with the past, with a high level of impact and complexity. So how can IT leaders master the complexity of the digital CIO role in order to lead effortlessly?

The CIO-plus role is like the spinal cord for the organization: Digital IT is stretching up, no longer just dealing with technical challenges, but solving thorny business problems. Though it doesn't mean CIOs will solve every problem on their own; it’s about the ability to manage business solutions via high-performance IT teams in a structural way; the ability to align the business requirement with the IT capacity; the strong business orientation to bring the benefits of IT to solve business issues. It also means that CIOs are able to constantly and dynamically lead an IT structure that is completely integrated with businesses and well ahead of the business requirement; the ability to interact with businesses in their processes and pain areas; the ability to bring out not technology-driven but business-focused solutions, driving adoption for application going with change management, which is the toughest piece of management. The CIO-plus role is like the spinal cord of the organization, integrating various functions, to simplify, unify, and optimize processes across functional boundaries, and often across the entire enterprise. This requires seamless communication and collaboration.

IT needs to go beyond just playing the background music to support the melody; it's the sheet music: Nowadays, IT has permeated into every core process of businesses and is the key component of differentiated business capability. There needs to be some in-depth technical understanding as well as business acumen. The global digital CIO must be attuned to the business’s IT needs and works with all stakeholders to ensure they have the right tools to execute and the business won’t miss opportunities to grow. IT must always be tuned up to enable business strategy and catalyze business information in the long run. The CIO as a conductor has to lead the in-house musicians and take into account the time lag of the orchestras on another continent. They have to keep the in-house order, and must simultaneously coordinate with distant contributors, otherwise, the music with jar the ears.

The complex digital CIO role has to follow the "simplicity" principle to make effective decisions and master IT complexity: Complexity is one of the emerging digital characteristics. IT should keep optimizing its ability and deliver value-added business solutions with speed. Every decision is nuanced and informed by all business factors. More often, the simple decisions are not quite so simple anymore, and more frequently, a long-range strategy is more like wishful thinking than a plan likely to reach fruition. Technically, the complexity of aggregate layers of every internal system is a burden that often causes conflict, and the CIO manages that complexity regardless of who builds it. Running a simplified IT means that IT should break down silos, keep information flow, and optimize its ability, to deliver value-added business solutions with speed.

Digital is dynamic and complex. Making IT digital transformation is not an overnight sensation, but taking a systematic approach. Effective IT management means understanding every island of the operation and every workflow process thoroughly. It is based on such a comprehensive understanding that a CIO can master the complexity of the role and lead digital transformation seamlessly.


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