Tuesday, July 20, 2021


For CIOs to shine as the digital modernist, they really need to wear multiple personas, evaluate key business issues, do due diligence, ask right questions and take logical scenarios for driving changes and leading digital transformation.

Information Technology is now permeating into every corner of the organization; it’s one of the most critical success factors to run a modern business. As organizations across vertical sectors embark on the digital transformation journey, the landscape for all executive roles constantly changes. 

The CIO role also has to be reimagined and reshaped all the time. They should keep asking themselves and others: What is the future of IT? How to build an ultramodern digital IT organization? What is the nature of the CIO role and how to harness IT leadership in the digital era? Here are nine characteristics of digital modernist CIO.

CIOs are the systems thinker and holistic management explorer: In the evolutionary human society, Newtonian mechanics have fueled industrialization. In the industrial age, many CIOs live in the box, leverage linear logic to assume that the business as a whole is a sum of parts, and take the transactional approach to manage IT as a support center. However, nowadays, we are moving into the hyperconnected and interdependent digital era, modern businesses today are like the organic living systems that keep growing. The linear business perception needs to be replaced by an adaptive digital system perspective, and technical behavior needs to be replaced by socio-technical behavior. 

Digital CIOs should envision and embrace emerging technology trends, practice Systems Thinking to ensure that IT is an integral component of the business competency and the linchpin of the digital transformation. Systems Thinking requires many forms of additional thinking such as abstract, holistic, quantitative, objective, temporal, and critical thinking. It should be applied at both the level of technology artifacts in the resource category and IT effect at the enterprise level across all business functions to drive changes in a structural way.

CIOs are outside-in, people-centric: When CIOs manage and measure IT from inside-out IT lenses only, they struggle to get aligned with the business. To improve IT maturity, it is important for CIOs to have both business acumen and IT knowledge and ensure IT acts as an integral part of the business. Digital CIOs focus on information content and context as well as how the information can be tapped from the underlying data and turn into invaluable business insight for shaping a modern digital enterprise. 

Modern CIOs are the inspired storytellers who can help customers or business partners gain open perspectives on IT performance and potential to close multiple gaps (perception, communication, and collaboration, etc) between IT and business. They are outside-in, people-centric, and able to initiate conversations at the different level of the organization with clarity and work collaboratively with other business leaders to transform their organizations by focusing on creating the long-term business advantage.

CIOs are intrapreneurs who run IT as a software startup: Traditional IT is often perceived as the cost center because business leaders don’t have a full picture of IT contribution, especially how IT can contribute to the revenue growth of the company. IT investment is costly and IT resources are limited. It is not sufficient if IT only keeps the lights on without adding further value to exceed the business’s expectation. To refine IT reputation, intrapreneurship becomes a new fixture for management in their efforts to spark creativity. Digital CIOs must invest in and leverage appropriate technologies and solutions to generate invaluable insights and help the business open up new channels of revenue growth and monetization within the enterprise and their ecosystem. 

Running IT as a software startup is simply about taking bold initiatives to reinvent IT by cultivating the new attitude and fusing fresh energy for creating new revenue streams, exploring emerging business opportunities, substantiating competitive positions, affecting market landscapes, and driving business growth relentlessly. Practicing intrapreneurship also means enterprise IT needs to become smarter and more flexible by developing the culture of risk awareness and tolerance to do more with innovation. IT can help the business improve net profit by reducing the cost of doing business and leveraging the right sourcing and sizing to maximize output with the goal to accelerate business performance.

CIOs are business solutionist: IT may provide services, but that does not mean it should be labeled as a commodity service provider only. IT has to build up a strong partnership and reputation for delivering customer-tailored solutions and contributing to the achievement of the strategic business goals and benefits. To truly become a business solutionist, CIOs shouldn’t just wait for the customers’ requests to solve their issues. They actually need to work closely with the business for identifying and framing the real problem, gaining insight, and providing pieces of advice and recommendations to the business on how to leverage information and technology to find a tailored solution. 

Often, business functions prefer a solution that not only meets their needs, but also takes the step further, enables them to achieve strategic business goals, builds differentiated competencies, and elevates them to the next level of organizational maturity. With the right guidance, IT can work closely with the business to identify blind spots, close management gaps, frame right problems and solve complex issues creatively and recursively.

CIOs are trustful advisors to the board and C-level, the empowered CIO can be part of the corporate board: When IT departments are set up as a support center, consider their "customers" internal users only and just follow their requests, they often end up as an order taker who provides little competitive advantage. To improve IT leadership maturity, digital CIOs should build up credibility with their executive colleagues by making valuable contributions to strategic planning. They need to become a productive member of the C-suite or even have a seat in the boardroom to provide some actionable insight and options.

 It is not about the title of the CIO in the boardroom, but rather, the topic of information as an asset that needs to be represented in the boardroom. More to the point, without analysis, insight, and understanding of the CIO, how does any C-executive direct the creation of a business strategy that is increasingly dependent on information and technology? Digital CIOs should provide holistic business insight rather than IT picture only. IT strategy as a subcomponent of the business strategy can offer options and flexibility to address the upcoming business challenges or opportunities. IT will be asked to deliver the necessary capabilities to support the agreed new business ventures and shape the long-term organizational competencies.

CIOs are “Chief Influence Officers” with an intellectual voice: The majority of IT organizations are still stuck at a low level of business maturity and perceived as a back office support function only. Most IT managers who progress through the technological ranks have a hard time letting go of what made them successful and often being perceived as IT geeks or “invisible” IT managers. To improve leadership effectiveness, digital CIOs are able to recognize the priorities and struggles of the company by understanding the business beyond IT. They should listen to their own staff, customers, business partners or other stakeholders carefully and discuss critical issues openly in order to solve problems step by step. 

When IT leaders are positioned to become the strategic business leader, see the forest through the tree, it is when IT can drive value into the organization and IT leaders can shine as “Chief Influence Officer” with their intellectual voice. Digital CIOs who have developed influential competence seek to understand the mindset of all related parties and make leadership influence across the entire company and its business ecosystem. The maturity level of the CIO position is based on the influence they have made on others, their reputation as well as their leadership achievement. The digital CIOs with self-awareness can recognize the impact they are having; take the full responsibility for that impact and modify it in real-time to align with the impact they are intending to have.

CIOs need to be the talent master for closing the IT skills gap:
There are always debates regarding IT talent supply and demand: Do IT skill gaps really exist? Are they “skill gaps,” or simply “misunderstanding” or “miscommunication” gaps? How to dig through the root cause, not just fix the symptoms? How to build a long-term talent strategy and develop a set of best and next practices for talent management innovation? IT is transforming to reach a high level of maturity as a strategic partner by building sustainable IT-business relationships, focusing on IT-business integration and driving digital transformation. Talented IT staff are dedicated, well-disciplined, and have both technical skill and business acumen to bridge IT-business gaps. They can communicate empathetically, work independently, and present a strong “customer focus” to solve business problems and delight customers consistently. 

It’s also important to hire really bright, energetic, and positive people who present the traits described as open-mindedness, multi-dimensional intelligence, creative problem-solving, and learning agility to rejuvenate business culture. When it comes to recruiting the right people, the strategic goal is to find the right person who not only fulfills the required needs of the job at the moment but also has the potential to lead organizations up to the next level of business maturity.

CIOs are “business transformers”:
Some CIOs still apply “command and control” management style to either manage people or control technology usage of the business. They are reluctant to change and their IT organizations are sometimes perceived as change laggards. The overwhelming growth of information and continuous technology evolution means that CIOs should be empowered to lead changes and drive digital transformation. IT plays a change agent role by leveraging information & technologies and well thought-out planning to run faster than the rest of the company. It is the IT responsibility to identify opportunities for business transformation wherever analysis and assessment indicate the potential benefits of transformation efforts. 

The CIO as the digital modernist envisions the emerging technology trends; explains the big why about going digital; articulates the strategic rationale behind the venture, and ensures IT is perceived as a unique business advantage. If CIOs can see beyond the confines of their own function by understanding all the moving parts of the business and contribute to the overall improvement of the business, then, this is the true proactive contribution to the top line business growth and leap up the organization to the next level of the enterprise maturity.

CIOs have to wear multiple personas and practice situational leadership all the time: CIOs are strategic business leaders who are responsible for delivering business values, driving changes and making multidimensional leadership influences. Being a single-minded technologist who has in-depth knowledge of only one specific IT subject is simply not proficient enough to be a versatile digital IT leader today. The digital CIO must have a balance of technology and business knowledge and operate with terms such as "profit growth," "cost optimization," “doing more with innovation,” and "increasing productivity,” etc. Nowadays, digital CIOs need to have multiple personas, wear many hats to lead effectively. The persona can be seen as the “public relations” part of the digital CIO allows them to interact socially in a variety of situations with relative ease. 

Back to basics, CIOs are “Chief Information Officers” who take charge of one of the most invaluable business assets - information. Increasingly important, CIOs should be “Chief Innovation Officers” who are expected to constantly propose new ideas and challenge the status quo. Going deeper, CIOs are “Chief Insight Officers” who can provide insightful advice for business executive peers and corporate boards on how information brings business growth opportunities and how new technologies can enhance the creation or improvement of products and services while balancing the technical and business risks. CIOs also need to become ‘Chief Interaction Officer, `Chief Improvement Officers, `Chief Investment Officer,” or “Chief Intrapreneur Officer,” etc., to practice situational leadership all the time.

Digital transformation represents a break from the past, with a high level of impact and complexity. Don’t waste the opportunity, seize it. The CIO is no longer just a glorified geek but a business savvy strategist and a digital modernist to advocate innovation and drive changes relentlessly. To unleash the full potential of the business, organizations need to understand that IT is not only technical or scientific, but also artistic and delightful. The balance of art and science in IT management is how to enforce scientific discipline, leverage design thinking, and make continuous efforts to build delightful products or services for accelerating IT performance, unlocking IT potential, and achieving high-level of organizational maturity. For CIO to shine as the digital modernist, they really need to evaluate key business issues, do due diligence, ask the right questions and take logical scenarios for driving changes and leading digital transformation.


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