The Digital CIO : Elevating leadership’s appreciation of digital possibilities
Practical suggestions on gaining and maintaining executive sponsorship for your digital journey
In my previous article (It is Now time for the Digital CIO ), I made several key assertions. Firstly, I maintained that the uptake of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role has been muted and that it remains the CIO that “carry’s the can” for realizing the promise of digital in most organisations around the world. I therefore presented (and remain committed to) the view that all CIO’s must plan and make the transition to being Digital CIO’s. The reality remains that building a digital strategy in isolation is futile— we now only have strategy in a digital world.
I introduced the perspective that the Digital CIO must earn the Right to Disrupt by ensuring that the IT organisation provides high levels of Operational Reliability i.e. the basics work well and at the best possible price point.
Similarly, business needs to experience the IT organisation as place of execution — not excuses. This Service Excellence combined with Operational Reliability present the Digital CIO with the Right to Disrupt.
The Digital CIO’s eco-system was introduced with the view that once this Right-to-Disrupt is bestowed up on the Digital CIO, it can best be maintained by building and managing this active eco-system of Partners, People and Promoters.
Promoters probably being the most critical as these would typically be constituted by the highest ranking leaders in the business.
More recently, a research report published by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Digital provided some key insights into both the People and Promoter dimensions of the Digital CIO.
Two key extracts from this report:
· 55% of digitally maturing companies report a need for new leaders to drive digital transformation success (MIT Sloan Management Review / Deloitte Digital 2018)
· 90% of executives, managers and analysts said they need to update their skills at least yearly to work effectively in a digital world (MIT Sloan Management Review / Deloitte Digital 2018)
For many years, we have read of the critical importance of leadership alignment in all large scale technology investments — as these were deemed to be transformational and not just tactical. We have also been painfully schooled that at the heart of failed ERP and other technology implementations, lies a failed Change Management programme i.e. the inability to convince users / people to utilize the new system to the extent that it was intended. We survived these threats at the time and our implementations continued regardless!
The Digital opportunity, however, may not let us off the hook that easily. This is not a period of more mobile apps or collaboration platforms. This isn’t an opportunity to merely make the current business more efficient.
This era is the first real opportunity to re-imagine business and must therefore be driven by business leaders.
So what does this mean? To my mind and for all the reasons above -
The Digital CIO must elevate the appreciation of digital possibilities by these leaders — so that they can “re-imagine” better, more competitive, more relevant, more digital businesses!
Elevating digital understanding among the leadership cadre is not an easy task in any organisation — regardless of sector. Even our largest, most successful corporates have been built by amazing individuals — almost all of whom remain classic digital immigrants. The Digital CIO must still be able to garner support for the transformational agenda and backing for the less-than-popular decisions to come.
My view is to stick to these 3 Speaking rules:
Speaking Rule 1- Speak Simply: If ever the KISS (keep it simple .. ) rule applied — it is now. There will be no extra points gained for showing your board and EXCO how well versed you are in the complex world or technology and digital. All that will happen is a reminder of their lack of understanding and you being branded as a techie who doesn’t understand the business! Use the simplest possible words you can find and always relate it back to topics and concepts that your audience will understand e.g. their mobile phones, how LinkedIN lives on the cloud etc.
Speaking Rule 2 — Speak Business: Probably the largest difference between successful and “also ran” Digital CIO’s is the ability to translate technical concepts, trends and projects into business relevance and /or business value. Irrespective of the topic — from Blockchain to Cloud e-mail migration…show business value and show it using the simplest use cases possible. Most executives have arrived at this senior most point in their careers by listening to their instinct — if they don’t understand something — they won’t back it. Irrespective of the language your leaders use to communicate their decision to you, this remains at the heart of their decision making mechanism. The Digital CIO must therefore master the art of Digital-Business communication!
Speaking Rule 3 — Speak Often: There is simply far too much happening in the local and global business and political worlds for us to assume that leaders are busy self-studying the digital concepts we share each time that we need a business case approved! The Digital CIO must steal the march on this subject. Speaking often is probably the best possible mechanism to stay top-of-mind and to pro-actively elevate digital understanding at the highest levels of the business. Consider the possibility of standing 30min slots at board and / or EXCO’s where relevant digital topics are introduced and reduced to business impact; or special (voluntary) on-line sessions to discuss subjects in a similar manner; if all else fails — create a library of web- and podcasts that can be viewed at their leisure (and privacy).. so the list of practical ways of elevating digital understanding through continuous communication can continue.
Like anything else, to be successful at this level of seniority and intensity of communication, the Digital CIO must have a clear and agile plan. I would suggest the following key elements as least:
A Personal Plan: Be clear on the definition of your personal success and what you need to accomplish in order to achieve your personal vision. Whilst this may not assist in the content of your communication, it certainly will sustain your sense of purpose and clarity of vision — both critical criteria when you are communicating at this level.
A Digital Plan: I’m specifically avoiding the use of the overused terms of “Digital Strategy” and “Transformation Plan” — both of which conjure up images of massive implementations that promise Utopian returns, several years into the future. A Digital Plan should be simpler (not less bold) but certainly executable in smaller, bite-sized pieces — which should also help execute the 3 Speaking Rules. This plan must be agile and adaptive to continuous learning as you receive feedback from customers (internal and / or external)
A Stakeholder Plan: In the Digital CIO Playbook sessions that I run for CIO’s making this transition, this section is by far the most valued and value adding. For any communication strategy to be effective, you must know your audience and therefore, how to influence their behavior. Building insights into your leadership team, their interactions with each other and their definitions of personal (and business) success will serve your incredibly well as you own the agenda for elevating the digital understanding of your organisation’s leadership.
I believe that the Digital CIO must lead this process and take ownership of it as eventually, decisions will be made and risks taken based on the information on hand — make sure that you’ve been the preferred provider of information leading up to that critical point of decision making.
One more step in a phenomenal journey — which I trust you will continue to enjoy.