6 CIO responsibilities for digital business

Gartner Feb 2016
How clearly defined are your responsibilities for digital business? Are you the a) champion; b) influencer; c) facilitator of digital strategy — or d) a bit of all three? If your answer is “d,” you aren’t alone. Digital business is changing market paradigms and enterprise priorities at blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed.

Thanks to the digital revolution, CIOs have an unprecedented opportunity to transform themselves and their departments, and become a key voice at the executive table and boardroom. At the upcoming Gartner CIO & IT Executive Summit in Toronto, the leadership role the CIO must play in digital business will be explained as contextual and depends on more than self-initiative. Digital business is a fast-moving team sport and, as such, requires role clarity and synchronization to succeed. One of the first acts of leadership a CIO can contribute to the enterprise is to drive digital role clarity and teamwork expectations.

Core leadership responsibilities

CIOs can focus on the following main responsibilities to define their role in digital business strategy:

Promote three IT subcultures: The digital and the physical get blurred with digital innovation, so culture can’t be addressed in a stopgap fashion. Nurture three distinct subcultures in IT: 1) The operator, focused on keeping things running and improving; 2) The innovator, focused on speed and exploration; 3) The guardian, focused on leading and balancing innovation with risk.

Develop a bimodal capability: Bimodal is an approach that enables your enterprise the flexibility to innovate while ensuring that day-to-day business requirements and regular performance goals are met. Getting the business engaged in the digital agenda is difficult if you don’t establish this capability.

Renovate the IT core: Many enterprises today have old, monolithic enterprise applications in a closed business architecture. Renovation initiatives include investing in improved data access, big data analytics, integration and cloud infrastructure.

Uncover and develop talent: Digital requires new skill sets, which is why so many CIOs cite talent as one of their biggest innovation obstacles. Beyond training and developing existing employees, digital leaders can overcome the talent gap through external hires, acquisitions and partnerships.

Move from IT governance to enterprise digital governance: Digital business requires the ability to assess and advise value/risk tradeoffs at digital speed. You’ll need to bring executives, suppliers and other external partners more closely into these processes and carefully delineate responsibilities within digital-domain teams.

Champion digital business strategy: A key component of the business strategy is the digital strategy, which is supported by the IT strategy. Identify disruptive trends, threats, talent and partners, and then champion proposals and priorities that will help your enterprise survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world.

Evaluate and build on your foundation

The six capabilities described here show a progression from the CIO as IT leader to the CIO as digital business leader. The ease and speed at which CIOs who aspire to digital leadership can attain it obviously depends on the circumstances of the enterprise where they lead.

Ultimately, CIOs who aim to be recognized as digital business leaders need to have a vision of what needs to be achieved and the ability to enlist business leaders in the discussion.

Mr. John MacDorman is a Research Director in Gartner’s CIO Research group. His areas of coverage include IT strategy, organization design, bimodal IT and governance.

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