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The 21st Century CIO: Serving True Innovation Through Digital Transformation

The CIO must take infrastructure, equipment, tools, people, and processes and transform them into a comprehensive business tech strategy that fuels productivity and growth. That is the genesis of digital transformation.

What is true innovation? Different from creation, Innovation uses existing ideas or technologies to create something new. There is, of course, a catch; you need to have the guts to be innovative in the first place. The drive to think outside the box, fully understand the situation you are in, and ask, “how do we improve this?” is important.

Innovation isn’t easy, it’s most certainly the path least followed and usually involves some sort of sacrifice. While starting something new can be hard, it’s much harder to stop doing something old.

The 21st century needs more innovative CIOs

One of the primary roles of today’s CIO is transformation. Taking various systems or processes that are failing to perform, and creating something that evolves the business so it can continue to move and grow. The CIO must also take the infrastructure, equipment, tools, people, and processes of his or her company and transform them into a comprehensive business tech strategy that fuels productivity and growth.

Unfortunately, many CIOs today are more focused on buying more equipment and “bolting it on” than leading transformation. Band-aid solutions may fix the problem temporarily, but without going back to repair the source of the problem, they will likely have to deal with the old issue again…

Another batch of CIOs are stuck in the old way of thinking, seeing IT impediments and failures as something to fix.

But transformation is not actually about any one “fix;” it’s about bringing technology into the belly of your organization, and fundamentally changing the way your stakeholders think about design.

A successful CIO for the 21st century will apply their knowledge, skills, tools, and vision to transform aging and inadequate IT into an innovative solution.

IT transformation is the most popular form of innovation

Your enterprise is more hungry than ever for digital transformation because competitors are already feasting on it, and both customers and employees have long been demanding it. Your survival depends on the ability to leverage technology to drive growth, and that ability is what sets the CIO apart from CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs.

The goal of IT transformation is business growth. That may sound obvious, but it’s a change from years past when IT was not at the heart of company strategy; before we started calling it business technology. Now IT, or business tech, is directly linked to marketing, sales, data storage, analytics, communication, collaboration, security — the list goes on.

So while doing things like social media advertising, blogging and producing podcasts used to be the role responsibility of the CMO, now the CIO needs to be involved.

IT is strategy. IT is customer value. IT is the enterprise. And the goal of every IT leader is the same as the CEO: to drive and manage sustainable business growth.

Business technology is not just one of the important areas for innovation. It is the main area for innovation. And it’s your job to be aware of the technologies available to help achieve a successful transformation. Applying business leadership and strategy to technology will always end with spectacular results.

The 21st century CIO’s plate

Here are just some of the business areas the 21st century CIO must support and innovate with technology:

  • Systems Automation
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Security and Risk Monitoring
  • Enterprise Application Delivery and Development
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Customer Experience
  • Customer Data and Insight
  • Channel Strategy
  • eCommerce
  • Mobile Channels
  • Employee Mobility and Productivity
  • Internet of Things
  • Data Storage and Backup

And the list goes on...

IT touches every aspect of the enterprise. That means CIOs have a complex and sometimes daunting list of areas to work with. The CIO challenge is to combine these areas, where possible, into a successful, innovative new process. In other words, build a digital transformation framework that is lasting, effective, and user-friendly.

Cloud is your new best friend — how will you use it?

There is one technological innovation that the CIO is tasked with using: the Cloud.

The Cloud is one of the main innovations of the decade because it is uniquely capable of enhancing, if not entirely transforming, every function of business listed above, and then some. The Cloud accelerates digital transformation by enabling the enterprise to move away from on-premise IT infrastructure and maintenance, to agile, services-oriented solutions that you can easily innovate and scale.

The innovative CIO can utilize the Cloud to streamline processes, make IT more efficient and cost-effective, and do more with less. A well-conceived Cloud strategy delivers everything from mobility and analytics to storage and security without requiring you to own and maintain all the servers, data centers, licenses, and latest attack monitoring software yourself.

When your organization decides it wants to transition to the Cloud, it’s your job to determine how to feature it in every process. How will you showcase the Cloud, complement its benefits, and stretch it into a balanced and useful process?

A three-step guide for digital transformation

1. Maximize business tech value and efficiency

Ask yourself honestly: how much of your IT investments go to waste, or fail to deliver much ROI to the business? As IT becomes more central to business operations than ever, how much more are equipment failures going to cost you? Fail-proof and sustainable IT investments must now come with built-in or managed safeguards against risk and attacks as well as be designed to continually scale and improve.

  • Measure your new tech investments in agility gains (not just dollars)
  • Do away with hardware and systems that have an expiry date, like on-premise servers
  • Invest in high-quality managed technology, software, and services that remove the burden of maintenance, monitoring, upgrades, and compliance from your department

IT agility means being able to respond to business opportunities (and threats) quickly and competently. It is, most simply, the ability to grow and seize business gains without hindrance. And agility comes from a close alignment of business and IT, where IT systems have been designed to not only support but advance business goals.

Luckily, simplifying IT and speeding up your digital transformation with a range of Public, Private and Hybrid Cloud deployments is easier than ever.

2. Form a customer-centric digital strategy

Your strategy for digital transformation should be aimed at creating customer (and shareholder) value. Business growth depends on how well you engage today’s empowered, omnichannel customer. Digital is going to impact more and more of your sales: analysts say that, by 2020, the majority of revenues will be driven by digital. As companies integrate digital into all aspects of business, and consumers continue to favor virtual over in-store experiences, you need to be equipped to shift rapidly to meet your customers where they are.

One way CIOs can help their companies form a customer-centric digital strategy is by planning and executing an operating model that harnesses emerging technologies that can be adapted to the ever-changing customer journey. Consider how you will support rich media, interactive design, mobile engagement, social channels, CRM systems, and more. The agility of the Cloud makes it a top choice for companies that want to keep infrastructure, talent, processes, and technology agile enough to meet shifting customer expectations.

3. Partner with your CFO

CIOs earned a seat at the table when companies began to realize that IT was critical to their ability to compete. Now, it is increasingly common for CIOs to work arm in arm with CFOs, amplifying their influence on business decisions. This is because the Cloud and other outsourced IT services have changed the economics of business technology. CIOs and CFOs often work together to determine IT spend, and form a vendor strategy that helps the company cut costs while growing revenue. Take advantage of the CIOs newfound ally to make a strong case for the business value of the Cloud and other emerging technologies.

Predictions for the 21st Century CIO

What will happen tomorrow? Predictions for the 21st Century CIO

First, we will see innovative CIOs repositioning themselves as service providers within the enterprise — repurposing IT assets -- including IT staff to support new processes, as well as orchestrating complex, Cloud-powered IT environments made up of multiple vendors. Many CIOs have already made the shift because they know that if they don’t learn how to function as a service provider, their enterprise will find a service provider elsewhere.

Once they’ve secured their role as strategy-makers, growth enablers, and IT optimizers, CIOs will have the chance to oversee even more fascinating technological transitions. Mobile will enable more personal interactions between people and brands. IT will become more intertwined with sales, marketing, and customer experience. Wearable technology, Internet of Things, and virtual reality will soon be part of business strategies, and CIOs will again be tasked with adopting, integrating, and deriving customer value from them.

An ordinary CIO can become an innovative CIO by bravely combining their knowledge and experience to make an inventive new process that brings out the best in their technologies. Any of today’s ordinary CIOs have the potential to become reigning innovative CIOs by forging strategies to create customer value as a digital business. All it takes is a combination of IT know-how, visionary leadership, and customer-centric digital strategy: a transformative, expansive process tied together by the opportunities of the Cloud.