Monday, December 12, 2016

CIOs as “Chief Inquisitive Officer: A set of Q&As (I) to Lead Digital Transformation

A confident CIO needs to keep asking, "why? why? Why?" to focus on guiding the company through the digital transformation.

Modern CIOs face many challenges, it is not sufficient to only keep the lights on. Regardless of which industry or the nature of organization you are in, being a digital leader will need to master the art of creating unique, differentiating value from piles of commoditized technologies and the emergent digital trend. Digital CIOs also have multiple personas, such as “Chief Innovation Officer,” “Chief Insight Officer,” “Chief Improvement Officer,” “Chief Information Officer,” and here, we discuss CIOs as “Chief Inquisitive Officer,” with a set of Q&As to lead digital transformation seamlessly.

Q1: Why is IT still being treated as a supporting function or the weakest link? And how to promote IT as a competitive advantage? The majority of IT organizations still get stuck in the lower level of maturity, often “invisible” to the business as a back office, running a set of commoditized IT services to keep the lights on, without providing enough differentiated advantage to help the business grow and optimize the customers' experience. IT is still perceived as slow, expensive, and not integrated with the business. Oftentimes CIOs are regarded as the "computer guys," the glorified fixers/tinkerers /technologists, without a seat at the big table. To reinvent the tarnished image, IT is supposed to be the “super glue” to weave all hard and soft business factors (people, process, and technology) to the unique set of business capabilities. And the CIOs must have the business acumen to educate the business about the multidimensional IT value. CIOs can better show the value if they understand how the business uses the IT, as a commodity service or as a niche competency -anything that adds to the top line growth and bottom line efficiency (increases revenue or decreases costs), increases market share, decreases risk, improves cycle time, or helps achieve some other business outcome is of value to the business.

Q2: Are IT goals (both at the strategic and operational level) well-defined, clear and achievable?
CIOs have to have a clear and big picture of the company’s core business and strategy goals first, and IT strategy is an integral component of the business strategy. The well-communicated, clearly defined goals and strategy mapping can help IT gain business respect because IT leaders understand the in and out of the business landscape. The role of modern CIO is to identify and blend the ways that information and technology can assist and shape the business by linking all digital aspects together to enforce the value creation; these are then mixed with other ingredients to create products/services and process/capabilities which generate differentiated value for their business’s long-term growth. To excel in strategy management, IT executives and departments also need to work out how they affect these business output measures, and what they can do to improve them. Once they do that and make a unique, valuable, independent contribution to the business outcomes that they can demonstrate in these terms, they will gain credibility and value beyond what any "provider" can deliver.

Q3: Do IT leaders work with their team to investigate different paths for the potential future?
Business savvy in your technical team is a must have if you are going to be competitive and explore the new way to gain the business competency. IT needs to move from “making alignment with the business” to “making alignment with the customers (including end customers). It is necessary and even imperative to rethink the very idea of “supporting’ the enterprise in a proactive way, or more precisely, catalyzing the business growth, with the digital IT mantra: “Less is More,” and spend more time and resource on value-added effort, minimize the activities for maintenance only, this is what liberates innovation.

Hence, IT leaders need to shift the old thinking (leads to a burden of support for operations) to the digital thinking whereas the true potential is in liberating new products, services, and business models. And from a talent management perspective, there are two paths to get there: Push the IT people out in the business, or bring the business folks into IT. Usually, it's easier to find technical domain expertise once the business challenge has been defined than it is to get technical people focused on business problems. Therefore, IT also needs to fill the talent gap from the long-term strategic perspective, not just from the short term projects' demand. Digital IT today needs to define and lead the entire business into the future, rather than being pushed by the business toward the unknown, IT should ride above the learning curve faster than the rest of the business in order to run as a change organization and lead the business to the future via a clear vision.

Q4 How do you prioritize the need or desire to innovate?
IT must always be tuned up to enable business objectives and catalyze business growth for the long term perspective. CIOs need to become Chief Innovation Officers and run IT as an innovation engine; otherwise, you will become Chiefly Irrelevant Officers. In co-playing digital music, IT should go beyond just playing the background music to support the melody, it’s being the sheet music: Take that away and you run the risk of the orchestra stopping altogether or, at least, playing the wrong tune! An innovative IT can only happen if IT is regarded as a strategic business partner and given the role in catalyzing innovation and driving the business transformation. IT should always keep fit, trim the cost and eliminate the waste, set the right priority for “Doing more with innovation. The CIO must be attuned to the business' IT needs and works with all stakeholders to ensure they have the right tools to execute and business won't miss the opportunity to grow. ” CIOs are expected to constantly propose new ideas and challenge the status quo, and manage the balanced innovation portfolio to increase business competence.

Q5: What are CIOs’ best and next practices to build business capabilities and implement capability-based strategy smoothly?
Because business capabilities are fundamental pillars to achieve the corporate strategy, IT needs to become the digital capability builder of the organization, IT role is to enable the business to exceed customer expectations, increase profitability and maintain a competitive advantage. IT is an integrator and superglue of business capabilities. Defining your enterprise business capability is part art and part science, and mapping IT service/systems or the set of business capabilities to the business processes are also not easy tasks, or it even runs counter to the short-term financial goals of many organizations. But it is worth the effort if IT needs to become the business enabler and growth engine and improve its responsiveness and maturity. With the increasing speed of changes, the forward-looking and fast-growing businesses set the top priority to build new capabilities in which IT is a key enabler. They will challenge the cost control efforts, with the drive to bring new capabilities to the business at a fast pace.

The digital CIOs reimagine IT with many possibilities via inquiries and reinvent IT as the business growth engine via practices. A confident CIO needs to keep asking, "why? why? Why?" They have to focus on guiding the company through the digital transformation, and create unique business value because IT is the significant element of any differentiated business capability and the defining factor for competitive advantage.


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