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Transforming IT to transform the business

CIOs must learn and develop new qualities and skills if they are to survive and thrive in the new digital era

Gulf News

There can be little doubt that the region is now undergoing a period of era-defining digital transformation, aided and abetted by the widespread proliferation of 3rd Platform technologies like cloud, social, mobility, and big data analytics.

This transformation is now being taken to even greater heights by the emergence of game-changing innovation accelerators such as robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and the internet of Things.

Faced with this technological revolution, CEOs across the region must transform their businesses if they are to remain competitive in such a turbulent and demanding environment.

CIOs, in turn, need to transform their IT departments in order to help their businesses realise the benefits that so many of their CEOs crave.

Indeed, these IT leaders have a pivotal role to play in facilitating the transformation of not just their own teams, but their entire organisations.

However, before CIOs can transform their own IT departments, they have another important job to do — that of transforming or reskilling themselves to meet these pressing new demands.

The qualities and skills that have made CIOs successful in the past — discipline, control, project management, operations management, change control, and process improvement — are still absolutely necessary.

But on their own, they are no longer sufficient for success. As such, the region’s IT heads must learn and develop new qualities and skills if they are to survive and thrive in the new digital era.

Driving an enterprise-scale transformation requires qualities and skills that go far beyond those of historical CIO roles. The path that lies ahead is not like the one already trod, and it will require a substantive amount of learning and change in order to navigate it successfully.

The six qualities that are vital to CIO success as entrepreneurship, innovation, collaboration, empathy, influence, and transformation. However, there is also a long list of new skills and abilities that could potentially be added to the CIO’s toolkit.

So, how should CIOs decide where to focus? Rather than attempting to tackle a long list of new skills, they should use a more pragmatic contextualised approach based on the characteristics of the business and the realities of what the IT department must achieve to meet the needs of the business.

The demands are many, with unprecedented calls from inside the organisation to help drive product, service, and operational transformation through the use of emerging technologies.

But, crucially, the modern CIO also faces competition in the form of cloud and mobile service providers and technologically savvy line-of-business executives with budget authority.

CIOs should be in the driving seat; more than any other C-level executive, they know how their businesses actually operate and they understand the power of third platform technologies and the new wave of innovation accelerators.

Yet many are under fire from senior management and line-of-business executives for the lack of organisational speed, agility, and innovation. Some even face the threat of seeing the most vital and interesting parts of their role handed to chief digital officers.

For CIOs, it truly is the best and worst of times — the best because they have unprecedented opportunities to drive digital transformation for their businesses, and the worst because many of them are unprepared to wear that mantle and face competition from would-be digital executives or external service providers.

Many CIOs are facing critical decisions about their futures. Their role continues to evolve and bifurcate, with one branch pointing toward a future spent managing and integrating cloud-based applications and services, and the other pointing toward a much more strategic role in transforming entire businesses.

But those that develop the required enterprise-transforming skills, or surround themselves with staff that bring them, will be able to become strategic contributors to digital transformation instead of being relegated to the role of running infrastructure and service integration.

While CIOs may not always have the opportunity to make truly business-defining decisions, those that gain the qualities and skills needed to play the transformational role will have a decided edge over those that don’t.

They will also become more valuable to their businesses and competitors, as enterprises that wish to attract and retain these CIOs and their staff will have to revisit compensation, work environments, and other incentives.

The journey to this transformational role will certainly not be easy, but for those that choose to make the effort, the rewards will be significant.

The columnist is group vice-president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC). He can be contacted via Twitter @JyotiIDC. Content for this week’s feature leverages global, regional, and local research studies undertaken by IDC.