Do Businesses Need Two Types of CIOs?

We recently explored how the evolution of IoT is driving completely new business models powered by digital technology. But what does this mean for the people behind that technology, the CIOs? Are they the new business visionaries? If so, who’s going to keep the lights on? Do we now need two types of CIO?

These questions take us back to the notion of “hybrid IT” that we raised in Destination Digital―the idea that as a CIO, you will have to balance running big legacy IT infrastructure while transforming to agile digital technologies, often delivered via the cloud and as a service.

In reality, as a CIO, it’s your personality that determines how well, and how quickly, you can help your organization embrace this hybrid world.

More traditional CIOs, with a long history of infrastructure projects, are likely to be more suited, and more comfortable, keeping the lights on. They will be focused on automating core tasks and driving efficiencies in existing processes.

Whereas more digitally ambitious “change agents” will want to explore disruptive technologies to transform operational models altogether. A good example of this is the IoT2.0 approach adopted by Panera Bread to digitally mobilize customer-facing processes, including ordering and paying. I talked about Panera’s innovations in some more detail in my previous post.

Perhaps there is a role for both types of CIO―and perhaps we’ll see a rewriting of senior job titles to reflect this increasing alignment between IT and business strategy.

Looking at transformation beyond the business

As a consequence of IT/business convergence, the “change agent” CIO will need to take on more and more business-focused roles, and will work closer with line of business heads to manage the impact of new operational models.

CDOs, adjacent in responsibility to this new type of CIO, have earned the moniker “transformers in chief” by driving the mandate for transformation in every operation of their companies―and beyond. As the McKinsey article rightly points out, thanks to the compounded effect―and exponential growth―of digital disruption, many businesses are finding that their biggest competitors are coming from left field.

As a result, savvy CDOs and CIOs spend large parts of their time looking for ideas, influences, trends―and threats from far beyond their own business. They divide their focus between understanding and analyzing the needs and entrenched processes of their own businesses, with the “challenger” SMBs and entrepreneurs making waves. Networking, building effective working relationships, and helping to channel outside influences into the organization is, in a very real sense, part of their mandate.

But whereas a lot of companies rely on a CDO to quickly drive transformation and meet specifically defined goals, a CIO has the dual responsibility of driving the change while ensuring that the company still delivers a consistent experience to the end-customer.

Taking responsibility for the brand

CIOs will also need to recognize the growing influence that IT has on brand reputation for the enterprise.

Increasingly, a customer’s first point of contact―where their first impression of a brand is formed―is via digital and social channels. An unresponsive Twitter account or a broken e-commerce store can quickly damage company reputation and lose revenue, and bad news spreads quickly these days.

CIOs must ensure that a hybrid IT infrastructure is in place to support these core business channels. Servers have to be online 24x7 and applications need to be properly managed of course, but algorithms must be optimized too and machine intelligence has to be tuned to deliver the best customer responses. These evolving responsibilities mean that CIOs will become more and more accountable for key business outcomes.

One of the “change agents” already making an impact beyond the “maintenance” responsibilities of IT is Bob Iger, CEO and self-anointed “CTO” of Disney. He fervently believes in using technology as a means to help the company hit their financial targets quarter after quarter. And he does this by reaching out to a board of “tech heavies” including Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Orin Smith of Starbucks, and Judy Estrin formerly of Cisco. Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder, and the late, great Steve Jobs were even board members once upon a time.

Assessing, planning and embracing the new age

When it comes to the adoption of digital, social, AI, and the like, I think we are at the base of the hockey stick. There is only one trajectory that we are heading toward, and the need for a business-minded CIO has to be embraced sooner rather than later. So what should organizations be doing now to ready themselves?

They might need a new type of CIO with a new title linked to transformation and growth. They might need to employ two different CIOs in recognition of the different skillsets required. Perhaps a helpful first step would be to map out what the business wants to achieve from digital transformation, and therefore what the role of their future CIO should be. They can then begin to assess if current KPIs are fit for purpose and plan for their new digital age.

David Blackwood is global CTO for Capgemini Infrastructure Services. Read more Capgemini blogs here.

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