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CIOs need to up-skill to think like a business leader

How can CIOs combine technology and business leadership to drive strategic corporate growth plans and increase market opportunities?
3 minute read

CIOs need to up-skill to think like a business leader as any CEO or Managing Director would. A CIO’s role has drastically changed thanks to the role technology plays in the digitisation of businesses today. It’s no longer enough to understand the how, when, why and where information is disseminated throughout the organisation.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 100% of IT roles will require an intermediate level of proficiency in business acumen to effectively execute on the digital business strategy.

That means understanding the business, interacting with visionaries across the business, and driving a smart digital agenda. Technology will always be the foundation, but now business has to be the mindset.

That also means CIOs have to pivot and start helping the organisation find a competitive advantage.  Especially with the growing threat from challengers and nimble start-ups. Today’s economic environment requires that the CIO of the future emphasises business knowledge with technical depth. Evangelism and leadership abilities can also be used to drive strategic corporate growth plans and increase market opportunities.

This means that CIOs need to develop a new skill set that extends further than running a great IT organisation. They need to drive revenue and contribute to bottom-line goals and company growth. There are four main areas that a CIO needs to “ups-kill” to become a more effective leader within its organisation.

Build partnerships across the business

It might seem obvious that strategic partnerships are essential for any role. However, for a CIO, it is key to help generate business value from key digital initiatives. Partnering with C-suite executives gives the CIO visibility into their departments and helps get buy-in to digitise business efforts.

The CIO should figure out how to map the digital strategy to what these leaders are doing. Then, in collaboration with them, adapt and improve the strategy to continuously meet the business requirement.

The thinking should be about how technology can improve the leaders’ efforts in a way that will provide demonstrable benefits. This could be major savings, new revenue opportunities, or competitive advantages.

Become a business leader, not just a technical one

The CIO lens is generally internally focused. They advise on what technology employees and stakeholders need to be more productive and operate a support function. As technology plays a more critical role in the success of the business, CIOs need to shift to an advisory role. They need to guide the digital transformation of the entire business, not just the tools and infrastructure people use daily.

Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda survey found that less than 40% of the respondents are overseeing their company’s digital transformation efforts. This is whilst more than 60% of CIOs are taking more of a back seat. CIOs cannot afford to be idle participants with technology transforming every industry from automotive to hospitality. Business leaders do not have the knowledge needed to effectively drive digital change.

What does the term ‘digital transformation’ actually mean? Wipro Digital found that most executives believe there is a lack of knowledge as to what this term means.

Only a CIO with business acumen can execute on a digital leadership strategy that will make the business more efficient, create new and profitable digital channels. It’s about reaching a higher level of maturity as a business partner, change agent or transformation leader.

Evangelise: communicate your vision to the wider organisation

It’s no secret that great communication is not often synonymous with IT leaders, in the same way it’s with CEOs. In order to drive transformational change, CIOs need to step outside of their traditional comfort zone and evangelise key IT initiatives to the the organisation.  It’s about shifting employees’ perceptions of IT as just a support function to a driver of digital innovation. Then ensuring everyone understands how it will impact them individually.

The CIO has the power to create a digital-first culture and frame the narrative around how these initiatives support the wider business goals. This might require hiring new talent to help spark and drive innovation across the business.

Developing a customer-first mentality

Importantly, CIOs need to take a customer-first approach to the organisation’s digital business strategy. That means considering how technology is used outside the company walls.  CIOs have typically supported the efforts of others who interact with customers. But it’s critical to learn how to engage directly to deliver on transformational goals. Think about taking a traditionally offline business online. This change has to start with the customer experience in mind.

Every great CIOs strength lies in their ability to change and adapt. That’s why the demands of this new world order won’t be a reinvention. It will be a reaffirmation of the CIO’s place as a visionary, digital strategist and a key driver of business growth.

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