The CIO version 3.0 – leading digital transformation

Proper digital transformation remains elusive to many businesses and the CIO is the only person equipped to effectively deliver some sorely-needed change, says Adobe’s Jayakrishnan Sasidharan.

Jay Bangalore 150 BWBeing a chief information officer (CIO) is not what it used to be.

One need only look at the growing coordination between marketers and CIOs in the run up to shopping frenzies like China’s Singles Day or Flipkart’s Big Billion Sale to see how the role of the CIO is expanding. To successfully execute cross-platform strategies across mobile, physical retail and traditional web, marketing must involve the CIO from the beginning, or risk failure.

The same could be said about digital transformation in general, where the CIO is rapidly being shifted from the custodian of their company’s data, software and technical infrastructure into broader, leading roles in the enterprise. This is seen across the globe, where more than four in five CIOs now have responsibility for business outside of traditional IT, according to Gartner – for innovation, transformation and even marketing and strategic planning, in some cases. 

However, ANZ CIOs seem to be struggling to step up into this role as business leaders. The Gartner CIO Agenda Survey 2019 discovered that Australian businesses are falling behind their global counterparts when it comes to digital transformation, with 70% of CIOs reporting that they are still focusing on evolving their digital business foundations. Flat IT budgets and lack of access to business decision makers seem to be the drivers of this.

Only one in three ANZ CIOs report to CEOs, compared with 43% of CIOs in typical-performing organisations globally, and 56% in high-performing organisations. One third of ANZ CIOs report to a chief operating officer (COO) and 17% to a chief financial officer (CFO). As a result, IT is failing to influence business change and growth, according to Gartner’s research.

While the opportunity for ANZ CIOs to take on this role is clearly there – as showcased by their global counterparts – it’s stretching many CIOs beyond their comfort zone. 

To thrive in this global transformation, CIOs must use their expertise in bringing together existing capabilities and disruptive technologies. They must expand their roles to become data-driven innovators, managing organisational change and keeping customer experience management (CXM) at the centre of it all. 

Digital transformation and the evolving CIO

Looking at the digital transformation landscape, it’s clear why CIOs are being thrust into more diverse, brand-defining roles. Today’s global CIO has a unique purview into the tools, technologies and systems needed to drive effective CXM. And now CIOs have the platform to engage their companies across departments and job functions to get the whole business moving in the right direction. 

Even though CIOs have this broad view, change isn’t a given. They must take the lead in focusing and enacting digital transformation efforts. Following are three things CIOs can do to step powerfully into this leadership role:

  1. Become a change leader 

According to KPMG, fewer than one in three companies have an enterprise-wide digital business vision and strategy, meaning many CIOs are being pushed to enact transformational shifts without a clear-cut, agreed-upon architecture. Driving change of this magnitude may require added internal training in change management and organisational behaviour. 

“More often than not, managers assume that change will be resisted, and therefore change management is all about overcoming resistance,” organisational psychologist and change management expert Dr Alison Eyring tells CMO by Adobe. “But… the primary need is not overcoming resistance but enabling and supporting people to adapt.”

As CIOs drive CXM, they will need to cut through organisational silos, unify applications and systems across departments and standardise user experiences across channels. It will mean closely overseeing business execution and cross-functional teaming to match business needs. It will mean concentrating all efforts around the goal of accelerating adoption, utilisation and capturing value as each change gets introduced. Then, it will mean repeating this cycle again and again to refine and broaden the organisation’s digital transformation. 

  1. Centre the technology stack on CX

Customer experience is the perfect focal point for any digital transformation effort. It has been proven to boost revenue, customer retention and loyalty and competitive advantage.

This focus on CXM will require CIOs to assemble and nurture a robust, integrated technology stack that collects and acts on structured and unstructured data from across the digital ecosystem. Tapping into data, making it more contextual and drawing actionable insights will help businesses add value at every step of the customer journey.

Fortunately, the average APAC company is well ahead of the curve in comparison to its global peers – 16% of APAC digital industrial professionals have such stacks, compared to 10% in North America and 9% in Europe, according to research by Adobe. Of course, however, this number also highlights the distance many APAC CIOs have yet to cover in getting their technology stacks CX-ready. 

  1. Evolve transformation to scale

Recently, 33% of worldwide CIOs have reported to Gartner that they’ve evolved their digital endeavours to scale, with the intent of increasing consumer engagement through diverse digital channels. In order to meet the digital transformation needs of their businesses, more of these next-generation CIOs will need to make scalability a top consideration in the purchase and integration of technology. 

At the scale required to deliver the CX customers expect – hundreds of data points gathered into and analysed in a unified profile and decisions made in fractions of a second, for every point in each customer’s journey – human intervention will not be an option. Only AI-driven platforms can keep up with such demand. When integrated with all points of delivery and the configuration of content, AI can make such decisions with increasing precision and effectiveness, regardless of how many customers are being served. It becomes the engine for ever-improving customer satisfaction and success. 

Thankfully, ANZ digital industry professionals are already poised to embrace AI. According to Gartner, 77% of ANZ CIOs are already using AI technology and 27% of expect AI to be the most disruptive technology for their organisations in 2019, taking the top spot away from data and analytics. However, ANZ CIOs would do well to always consider how AI will change their organisation’s dynamic between humans and technology, train their people to respect the immense knowledge and capabilities of AI, while providing the much-needed context and empathy that AI is unable to duplicate.

Make no mistake: no role will have as great effect on the success of digital transformation as the CIO. However, while the stakes could not be higher, CIOs can’t afford to overthink challenges or become paralysed by so many unknowns. 

In my experience, digital transformation is usually accomplished by taking those first few steps where you see early business value, and then driving adoption across the organisation. Next-generation CIOs will find more success as they approach their own leadership this way and train their managers to do the same. They should encourage their teams to question biases, rethink routines and make decisions based on imperfect data or lack of visibility into future conditions. These are crucial skills for any leader of digital transformation, be it CIOs or the teams that work for them.

For sure, those CIOs that focus on managing this new change, centring efforts around CX and investing in scalability will successfully navigate this unknown territory and enable unprecedented new performance from their organisation.

Jayakrishnan Sasidharan is VP of Adobe customer solutions

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Image credit:Drew Beamer