Today we hosted our latest CIO Insight Call on “The Modern CIO – Leveraging Outsized Business Impact in a Hybrid World.” In recent years, digitization and digital transformation have become key topics that every business needs to think about. With technology – and IT in particular – becoming an inherent core component of the business, it can no longer be treated as a support function delegated to a CIO focused on running the back office – it has evolved into a key strategic component of the business. And with that, some of the “traditional” ways of managing and positioning IT within a company will have to be addressed. What worked well in the past, may not in the future. What changes will have the greatest impact over the role of the future CIO?
We were joined for a discussion around some real insights by three experienced global IT executives from Switzerland, India and China in large multinational global organizations: Patrick Naef, Managing Director at Boyden, as well as Neetan Chopra, Former Group CTO at Dubai Holding (recently joined a new org, unannounced), and finally Gerd Niehage, Head of IT Region Asia/Pacific (Regional CIO) at ZF Group, to explore how they are approaching this change.
We’ve known Patrick for many years now, and now that he’s published his recent book on the future of IT, we thought it would be an excellent time to cover his perspective on IT’s changing role in the post-COVID landscape. Please see below for the recording as well as some key takeaways both from our speakers and other CIO participants on the call.
- Embrace Shadow IT – These sometimes scrappy initiatives are actually key to business critical innovation. This may be the best way to support innovation for the company, align directly with business units, test new ideas rapidly, and remove the burdens of legacy & hierarchical IT organizations. Scrappy can be done by the business alone, but scale needs to involve the IT org. Shadow IT is great at putting up tents (the best!), but they are lousy at putting up two-story buildings. You have to teach them how to build the tent, so that they can later convert it to a two-story building. Additionally, the business needs to call upon IT to support these shadow teams when they are ready to scale up and take the fate of digitization into their own hands – there are often many security and otherwise concerns with these early ideas. IT should encourage business to get involved and create a joint budget for these kinds of projects with business also holding some responsibility for whether or not the project succeeds or fails. These projects are a great example of reducing hierarchy and blurring or eliminating lines of reporting, which can really get in the way of useful outcomes
- Ownership Doesn’t Matter – In a highly efficient organization the boundaries of people and budget ownership are less critical than the real outcome. If business impact and results are the primary focus, then “who reports to whom,” or “from whose budget?” needs to take a backseat to business results
- Plumbing → Core Function – Unlike the early 2000s when IT was described as “plumbing” and companies were encouraged to outsource it, IT has made a huge transition into the core of the business following the virtualization of “things” – almost every business today has virtual elements to their products, and this has greatly increased the relevance of the function and brought it much closer to the business. Product IT & Process IT converge…
- Reduce Hierarchy – Digital leadership today requires a new paradigm: the traditional hierarchical way of leading has come to an end, and new skills are replacing it. Flatter networks are the key, alongside having a sharing mindset, and humility. Leaders have always been expected to know about HR and finance, but historically ignored IT and technology – in the future, business leaders will need to get on-page with technology and deal with it – every leader needs to become a digital leader
- An Eye for Innovation – Leaders have to care about both legacy as well as innovation – there is no separate CIO and CDO – they are the same role. If you want to be more agile you need to federate your IT closer to the business. The CIO becomes a coach, catalyst, and enabler to help business peers get a handle on technology
- Resource Allocation: Short-Term, Mid-Term & Long-Term – As big shifts are happening within large and mid-sized companies, there sometimes is a struggle with how resources are allocated at the CIO level for near-term, mid-term and longer-term ROI projects, particularly in public companies (it can be hard to “do the right thing” for the long term, when you are so focused on the near term). How do CIOs view the tradeoffs? The long-running approach is less feasible in situations like this. You have to work in sprints and create immediate value – that has to be more of the focus. With standardization and harmonization – there must also be a focus on standardization of processes. No big new projects are necessary – focus on short term and quicker results. Have a pipeline of quick wins, with a backdrop of transformative long-term goals
- Educating the Board – The board is already becoming more educated on IT organically – you can’t ignore it today – the transformative impact of technology has seeped into our lives, and the customers are driving it – they want a digital channel and you have to create a digital product. A few things that can help move things along though are: 1) Somebody with passion has to describe things in simple business terms, 2) Delivery and outcomes matter – quick wins are quite important, and 3) Communicate a lot – get people together, look at the outcomes, get their feedback, align everyone
- The CIO Role is Fusing – …into basically every role in the company – COO, CMO, CEO, etc. If you just talk about it in a more holistic way, you realize that the CIO role is just fusing into every role in the company – and that’s exactly the point, digital is becoming a fabric of operating the business