The CIO's Guide to Leading Digital Transformation

  • 12/12/2019
  • 06:43
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Technology products and internet-based services permeate every part of our work lives. With digital industries growing 32% faster than the rest of the economy, according to Tech Nation UK, the tech industries over the past 4 years have raised £245 billion! Technology is so firmly entwined with innovation that any organisation that wants to become successful must ensure they are at the forefront of technology developments in order to stay competitive. 

Today, every business is a tech business. 

Technology isn’t just a buzzword. It is the launchpad for companies and leaders to capitalise on new opportunities being unleashed by innovations that are rapidly changing all business functions. With this there has been a shift in technology spending power away from the CIO towards the rest of the business. Technology leaders increasingly are advising across wide ranging technologies, powering business intelligence and nurturing talent and innovation across the business. 

The influence CIOs have on strategic decision making has never been greater. Logicalis Global survey states “840 CIOs find IT leaders are taking on a key strategic role, with 83% now driving or enabling new approaches to organisational innovation”. According to the Gartner Survey, due to the 270% increase of AI implementation into enterprises, CIOs need to be creative in order to stay ahead of talent shortages. With little AI talent available, investments in training programs are necessary to combat the challenge of deployment.

To succeed it’s vital CIOs possess the characteristics needed to lead employees and executives alike through an era of change, in addition to understanding the role of technology in business transformation. 

Barriers to transformation 

To understand how organisations can be successfully transformed, it is helpful to look at the main barriers that hinder technological advancement. These can include the lack of a clear vision, organisational resistance to change, ineffective use of resources, an overreliance on legacy systems, the skill set of teams, and data security. 

Data security is an increasingly important issue and one that must be taken very seriously by organisations of all sizes. To be in a position to overcome these barriers, having the right people and team dynamic is key. There isn’t much that a team of problem solving innovators cannot overcome. What also stands out about these barriers is that effective leadership can directly determine whether the barriers can be overcome or not. 

Good leaders guide companies through successful transformations. Leaders who understand the importance that technology plays in successful, modern organisations and who understand the importance of ensuring the right people are in the team make all the difference. They provide a defining vision of where the company is headed and ensure that the right people are a part of that journey. 

So, what exactly is it that sets transformational tech leaders apart? And who can be held up as genuine, modern examples of transformational tech leaders?

Qualities of transformational tech leaders

There are many important qualities that tech leaders can demonstrate or instill in their organisation but the most important of these can be boiled down to four key factors:

  • Having a clear vision - this is absolutely vital for its ability to inspire people, both within the team and within other stakeholders to achieve milestones and implement major projects.
      
  • Resilient to setbacks - an ability to not allow challenges or setbacks to affect longer term success, even if it causes short term pain. This is especially important in tech companies where the pace of change is rapid, and the risk of failure is increased. Commonly encountered setbacks include challenges surrounding legacy systems, budgetary constraints, and gaining executive support. 
     
  • Strategic hiring - this is important in terms of balancing internal/external resources (i.e. tech partners) to maximise productivity at a reasonable cost. Having effective hiring strategies ensures there are long term plans in place to identify and attract the most talented professionals. Despite raw technical skills being in such high demand, the importance of soft skills and creative problem solving also cannot be underestimated. Successful modern teams need people to be highly adaptive, rather than purely having silo skills. 
     
  • Emotional intelligence - this allows the human element of transformations to be properly accounted for. The ability to influence people to adopt and embrace new ideas and technologies is just as important as choosing which technology to implement. Transformations affect all business units and the differing impacts that changes have needs to be considered to make them inspiring and effective rather than creating resistance. 

Cultivating innovation

Helping to foster a culture of innovation is another hallmark of great tech leader. It requires a genuine understanding of user goals and problems and is boosted by encouraging a hands-on culture that starts at the top but extends across all team members. An innovative idea may last only a year in a tech company, but a culture of innovation will ensure that new ideas are thought up to meet constantly changing trends and market needs. 

Here it is important to ensure there is executive and senior management buy-in to support any transformational projects. This is especially true if your CEO comes from a finance or operations background, where they may not necessarily have strong tech skills. 

By creating driven and innovative company cultures, great tech leaders also make it possible to attract and retain the best tech talent. People want to be involved with innovative companies and have the opportunity to work on challenging and exciting projects. This personal desire for meaningful and exciting work helps to motivate the entire team to overcome difficulties and setbacks. 

Specifically including assessments or considerations of soft skills in new hire interviews is one effective method of ensuring these talents don’t get overlooked. By deliberately seeking out broader skill sets in new staff, it ensures that an innovative and creative culture is encouraged and maintained. 

Agile adoption of trends and tools

There are many tech tools and trends that organisations can look toward to drive performance. This includes ongoing developments and opportunities provided by technology developments including Big Data, AI and machine learning, CRM software, and traceability. 

These trends are already radically transforming efficiency and business intelligence capabilities. In-depth insights can be generated by Big Data analytics combined with AI- powered machine learning algorithms. Modern CRM software is transforming sales and customer engagement. Blockchain technology offers transformative shifts in the way data and products can be tracked and irrefutably recorded. Leaders must be prepared to create a supportive environment where these trends and tools can be deployed and tested. Only through these types of programs can the organisation and staff continue learning and assessing how new technology can be leveraged. 

While cloud computing and Big Data analytics were on the horizon and talked about for many years, simply watching and waiting as other companies tested these technologies does little for a company looking to lead its market. These technologies are useful only when deployed, and successful deployment requires successful testing. Not all implementations will initially be successful so it is important to embrace trends and transformative tech early so that by the time those sitting watching on the side-lines make their decision to implement these techs, you will already be one step ahead and reaping the efficiency and productivity gains. 

A more cloud-centric digital world promises huge opportunities, where software and services are weightless and offered via the cloud. 

Navigating threats and risks 

Lessons can be learned from cybersecurity and legal compliance risks, which will remain huge threats to organisational security and brand protection. While the pace that these trends are developing and evolving can appear overwhelming, tech leaders need to ensure they remain at the forefront of these knowledge areas. Where time limitations prevent you from being able to stay up to date with these fields and how they can be utilised in your business, it is important to turn to experts and specialists. 

These technologies are so potentially transformative in how organisations will operate and succeed that neglecting them risks losing competitive advantage. There will always be other companies, especially start-ups, willing to take increased risks in embracing new tech into their core business operations. 

Organisations must be willing to move at the same pace and dare to always be innovating. The person who has the greatest voice to influence how the executive team respond to these important threats is the CIO. You need to balance the importance of security, privacy and governance while empowering your people to take calculated risks. Consumer expectations are high and unforgiving for both companies who neglect customer data security or fail to keep pace.

Inspiring people with a clear vision

Tech leaders need to be prepared to develop and demonstrate a clear vision that employees can be inspired by and work towards. The power of the emotional connection that employees have with a clearly defined and worthwhile vision ensures that setbacks can be overcome while striving towards lofty goals. 

A creative and innovative culture should be fostered and nurtured so people’s bright ideas are rewarded and staff are comfortable taking risks or embracing change when it comes. Leaders also need to ensure they have built the right team of people to achieve the company’s vision. Team members need specialist tech skills but soft skills are vital too and should be sought out and identified right from the interview stage as new talent is brought on board. 

The success of technology leaders is no longer measured by what they build. Instead it will be on intelligent strategy, productivity enablement and the tangible outcomes that integrated technology delivers. Today’s transformation tech leader is the ‘CIO of everything’, harmonising business, people and technology at scale.