Digital Transformation: What Does It Mean for a CIO?

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CIO holding mug

As organisations adopt increasingly complex digital transformation initiatives, the need for strong organisational leadership from the CIO (Chief Information Officer) has never been more apparent. In particular, the CIO plays a key role in setting the digital transformation agenda for the organisation, sponsoring the delivery of component initiatives and ensuring senior stakeholder buy-in throughout the journey. The success or failure of an organisations investment in digital transformation therefore often lies at the feet of a CIO - so what should a CIO/CISO consider when leading the digital transformation journey? In this article we'll discuss:

What Does Digital Transformation Mean?

Reasons CIOs Should Embrace Digital Transformation

Hurdles CIOs Face During Digital Transformation

How CIOs Can Lead Digital Transformation

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What Does Digital Transformation Mean?

As digital technology becomes more sophisticated, more businesses realize that embracing applications, data analytics, automation, and other technologies can play a critical role in success. Defining digital transformation gets tricky when you speak about it in specific terms because it looks different depending on the company’s needs. Generally, though, you can consider digital transformation the process of incorporating more digital technology into every department of an organization.

When you get specific about forms of digital transformation, you find a wide variety of options, such as:

  • Focusing on app- and web-based customer service instead of relying on a call center.
  • Capturing data from customer interactions to predict emerging trends, create useful products, and identify areas for growth.
  • Using project-management apps to assign tasks and track milestones.
  • Generating invoices and emails automatically.

“Digital transformation” encompasses many forms, requiring leaders who can coordinate plans with department heads and managers, determine the right types of technologies to adopt, and encourage all within the organization to overcome the hurdles associated with learning new ways to better perform their role. More often than not, it makes sense for the CIO to fill that leadership role and to define the strategic direction to enable successful digital transformation.

Reasons CIOs Should Embrace Digital Transformation

Digital transformation has features that can benefit businesses of all sizes. SMBs need digital transformation because it helps them compete with larger corporations that often dominate industries. Adopting new technologies gives SMBs access to the AI, automation, and data analytics tools that they need to discover new opportunities without spending a lot of money on larger staffs.

Other critical reasons that CIOs should embrace digital transformation include:

  • Automation that can complete menial tasks and give professionals more time to work on projects that lead to higher revenues and profits.
  • Data analytics that give companies insights into what their customers really want.
  • Resource consolidation that integrates applications, databases, and other technology assets.
  • More collaboration between colleagues and departments, even when they work remotely.
  • Agility needed to keep up with rapidly evolving technology and consumer expectations.

All of these benefits matter to CIOs, so it makes sense for the executives to take leading roles in digital transformation.

Hurdles CIOs Face During Digital Transformation

In a 2020 post, we covered some of the reasons that digital transformations often fail in enterprise organizations. SMBs might not have as much money or other resources as large corporations, but their smaller sizes make them more nimble. It’s much easier for a small business to adopt innovative policies because they face fewer bureaucratic hurdles.

You should expect some resistance to change, though, no matter the size of your business. Digital transformations often fail because:

  • Organizational inertia makes it difficult for employees and departments to evolve. When someone has been doing a job one way for years, they tend to continue following that pattern. The CIO needs to take a leadership position that makes the changes seem excited instead of burdensome.
  • Companies invest in technologies that don’t really contribute to success. The latest product may sound like a miracle, but that doesn’t mean it will work well for your business. The CIO needs to research digital technologies and determine which ones the company should adopt. Otherwise, money gets wasted on toys instead of invested in tools.
  • Organizations don’t have staff members with the right skills to use digital tools. Recruiting a few IT professionals may ease the transition. You can also offer to retrain your existing employees. Adopting low-code and no-code platforms can make digital transformation easier, too, because they don’t require much experience.

How CIOs Can Lead Digital Transformation

Given the barriers to digital transformation, CIOs and CISOs need effective plans that encourage everyone, from staff members to other executives, to get involved. The word “plan” plays a critical role in the success of digital transformations.

Digital Transformation Planning

As Gartner Research notes, CIOs should start conversations about what parts of a company’s culture and technology need to change. Talking to as many people as possible can reveal the issues faced by the organisation that are hindering optimal performance. The sooner you know about an issue, the more time you have to properly plan for and scope a solution that contributes to increased productivity and business growth. The CIO/CISO plays an essential role in supporting the pre-initiation stage of a project through establishing rigorous needs-options-requirements analysis and business case development processes.

Building a Successful Team

Depending on your company’s size, executives may find it difficult to communicate and manage all of the resources (both people and technology) within their line of business. In the case of a large organizations, CIOs can coordinate their efforts with managers who execute the day-to-day work. IT managers should have intimate knowledge of what their organizations need specific to the particular function and are well placed to manage the delivery of business outcomes on behalf of a sponsoring CIO.

In addition to providing insights on the specific needs of the business, CIOs can be supported by their direct reports through:

  • Recruiting current employees and new hires who can contribute to the digital transformation.
  • Planning a delivery and deployment method that gets new technologies to the right people quickly.
  • Providing “on-the-ground” feedback that keeps the CIO informed of the digital transformation’s progress.

CIOs Have Authority to Make Broad, Horizontal Changes

IT managers can play important roles in digital transformation plans, but CIOs have the unique authority to make broad changes to how businesses operate. The CIO has a unique position because IT typically exists outside of corporate silos that make inter-department communication difficult. As the head of IT, the CIO has significant influence over department heads and other executives.

MIT Technology Review describes the CIO as filling a “horizontal role.” While other departments work in vertical silos, only the CIO has an overhead view of the organization and the ability to make horizontal changes. The CIO is well placed therefore to define new business models, optimize customer journeys and improve user experiences through collaboration across business units.

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Start Your Digital Transformation With a DreamFactory Trial

Digital transformation affects organizations at all levels. Unfortunately, transformation projects often bump into barriers that make adoption difficult. Likelihood of success increases however when the CIO takes an active role in leading an organisation through this change. Adopting DreamFactory makes the process even smoother by giving your organization a low-code option for generating APIs that connect applications and data sources.

Are you ready to start your company’s digital transformation? Start a 14-day free trial with DreamFactory to experience the benefits of low-code API development. The platform makes it easier for your teams to connect apps and collect data that can lead to business insights. Get started today!

Related reading:

The role of the IT Manager in Leading Digital Transformation