Saturday, February 2, 2019

Shaping the Modern CIO as “Digital Designer”

Modern CIOs as the “digital designer” enables IT to shine based on their new-developed design thinking and solid engineering disciplines. 

With the overwhelming growth of information and lightweight digital technologies, IT is no longer just the mechanical or monolithic hardware pieces to keep the business spinning or the mechanism for realizing a vision described by other C-level executives. Modern CIOs need to think like the digital designer, be open-minded and creative, reimagine the “art of possible,” show constructive dissatisfaction, understand the risks and potential bear traps, in order to reinvent IT as the strategic business partner and innovation engine of the business.



The transition from a maintenance mindset to design and value creation mindset is a stretch for some IT leaders: Creativity is the core of what makes IT strategic in any company. Running an innovative IT shouldn’t focus on technology or fancy gadgets, it’s about how to leverage design thinking and the powerful digital technologies to advance business objectives. It’s important to leverage the high-level design thinking to develop tailored and intuitive products or services for satisfying varying user groups from functioning to delight. IT is mainly an engineering discipline. Engineering is not just about hard science; the artistic side of engineering is about imagination, designing, and invention. Engineering is a piece of art because it involves design thinking, personalized judgment, experimenting, and intuition. Thus, digital CIOs need to wear their design thinking hat to tap the creative side of IT for meeting the company’s long term goals, building a strong brand and improving the overall organizational maturity.

Invent the business model based on the technologic vision, design thinking and on the mega-trends: Every corporate venture comes with a business model, it’s about how the business makes the profit. With the emerging digital technology trend and abundant information, modern CIOs should be equipped with “design thinking” mentality, discover the potential business model by capturing the emerging digital waves early enough and being able to build the core competencies. They need to ask open-ended questions and take an adventure of exploring the new possibilities. The starting point for a business model differs based on the objectives and nature of an organization. Business leaders should apply the “whole-brain” thinking, to take both intuition and logic, methodologically review a list of levers for business model components, and systematically build the list of potential business model options, and implement the best ones based on their core competency and maximize the multidimensional business value. A strong business model is difficult to copy because it is based on the core competency and unique strength of that specific company, it takes time to shape and take practices to build and implement.


Leverage design thinking to deliver customer-friendly products or services: The limitations of the CIO’s “industrial mindset” have made a negative impact on how IT can deliver successful business outcomes in the digital age. To keep IT relevant, the strategic objective of design thinking is to truly understand what customers’ need, how to improve their experience, help the business orient itself towards those needs in order to achieve strategic business goals. IT needs to be well aligned with the business, but even more crucially, be closer to the end customers and leverage design thinking to deliver customer-friendly products or services. From IT leadership perspective, it is absolutely necessary for leaders to create discomfort and get others thinking differently as well. In practice, to incorporate design thinking as part of the organizational culture, the management has to understand its value and put a lot of effort into it. Creativity in design is uniquely challenging because the products of the creative design must fit inside very strict constraints and need to be done under extreme pressure of time, cost and functionality. 

CIOs can no longer act as tactical managers only. Modern CIOs as the “digital designer” enables IT to shine based on their new-developed design thinking and solid engineering disciplines. They need to rethink IT as an innovative and business leading organization composed not only of technical ‘gurus’ but rather of business ‘gurus’ as well as “design gurus,” who also happen to be technically proficient. Digital CIOs are in a unique position to oversee the business from different angles so they can gain a multitude of business views and take the interdisciplinary management approach to reinvent IT as the game changer.

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