CEO: do you have the right CIO for digital?

digital binary globeDigital will impact every industry and every company. And it is happening now. A recent Forrester survey revealed that 93% of business executives expect their organisation will be digitally disrupted in the next 12 months.

There is no shortcut to becoming a digital business. Organisations need a clear vision and strong leadership to succeed in the digital age. They also need a high performance IT capability to drive their digital transformation. Without this organisations are likely to have shadow IT teams and other executives and functions dealing directly with technology vendors filling the gap. But, whilst these approaches may bring short-term benefits, they do not address the underlying issues; you need the right type of CIO, the right type of IT function and the right platform to be a sustainable digital business. And you also need the right approach and knowledge at both board level and across the wider organisation.

In a series of articles for CEOs and their boards, I will explore each of these areas and provide advice and guidance that will help business leaders to assess whether they have the right foundations in place to be a successful digital business. The articles are based on my book, Disrupt IT, which defines a new model for IT that meets the needs of the digital business. This article, which is the first in the series, deals with the CIO role.

In the digital age technology is being used to disrupt industries and create new business models, products and services. IT has never been so important, so strategic and so fundamental as a result. Digital is not an add-on to the business; it spans the entire organisation and beyond. It is about the devices, applications, tools, communication channels and data being used by the business and its employees, and by its customers, suppliers and partners.

It follows therefore that to be successful in the digital age, organisations need a CIO that works across the business to ensure an integrated and consistent approach to technology. This type of CIO works with their colleagues to identify opportunities for using technology to create value, and to ensure that the organisation has a consistent and joined-up approach to its systems and data.

The CIO in a digital business is different to the CIO of previous eras; the digital CIO is more outward looking, proactive and customer- and business-focused than has previously been required. It is also a far more collaborative and consultative role, moving from being the organisation’s technology gatekeeper to being its technology facilitator or broker. The focus of the role has moved from the back-office to the front-office – away from infrastructure and networks, to solutions that are visible to the customer, create differentiation and enable revenue streams. The CIO role is now less about being technical per se and more about making things happen that are enabled by technology.

So how do you know if you have the right type of CIO for the digital age? Here are three questions that will help CEOs decide whether they have a digital CIO:

  1. Are they a business leader first, technical leader second? CIOs in the digital age should not be wholly technical; they need to be passionate about what technology can do for their business, they need to understand the value and potential of technology, and they need to be knowledgeable about new and emerging technologies and how these can be applied within their organisations. But they cannot talk and act like a techie. They need to be able to communicate their passion, understanding and knowledge in non-technical language and within a context of business capabilities, outcomes and value. Digital CIOs are business leaders who are responsible for technology, not pure technology leaders. They need to sound and act like a business leader, take a business-focused approach to leading the IT function and contribute to issues and subjects beyond technology. When the board wants to discuss how technology can drive the digital transformation of their business they do not want to listen to someone who is steeped in servers, switches, coding and interfaces; they want someone who understands the business, its markets and customers, and who understands and can explain how to apply technology to create competitive advantage.
  2. Do they have broad business experience? The days of the CIO being the most senior technologist in their organisation who has spent their entire career working their way up through the IT department are coming to an end. For the CIO to be credible in the digital era they need more than just technical knowledge. They need broader business knowledge and experience to create a unique combination of technology, commercial and operational experience. To be able to contribute to developing products and services, shaping the customer experience and generating new revenue streams, CIOs need to have first-hand experience in those areas. An increasing number of businesses are appointing CIOs from other functions to meet this need. However, unless these individuals have spent time in IT during their career it is unlikely that they will have the necessary understanding and awareness of technology to be an effective CIO. The digital business needs its CIO to have experience across both technology and the wider business.
  3. Are they highly engaged inside and outside the organisation? The digital CIO is a social animal; they need to spend an increasing amount of their time outside of the IT function and engaging with their key stakeholders within the organisation, and with the organisation’s customers, partners and vendors and other relevant parties. Internally, the CIO needs to be an excellent networker that has good working relationships with all of their stakeholders. Being a CIO in a digital business is about being involved in the right conversations with the right people and at the right time to shape thinking and provide leadership in the use of technology. The digital CIO is a partner to the rest of the business, who advises on technology and works together with their peers to identify opportunities to use technology to create value. They can only do this if they are engaged with the rest of the business. Externally, your CIO should be looking for new ideas and fresh thinking through regular engagement with the organisation’s customers and partners, its existing and potential IT vendors and other organisations such as industry analysts, think-tanks and universities. The digital CIO needs to engage with different groups that will provide varied perspectives on the challenges, issues, opportunities and trends being faced by their own organisation, competitors and other industries. Game changing ideas rarely come from looking inwards and engaging with the same people and organisations.

CIOs in the digital age need new skills, broader experience and a different approach to CIOs of previous eras. Organisations that have the right type of CIO will be better placed to exploit digital opportunities than those that do not. If you cannot answer yes to the questions above, and you do not think your CIO can quickly develop or adapt then you do not have the right CIO for digital.

Disrupt IT is available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats. Country links are listed below: UKUSAustraliaBrazilCanadaFranceGermanyIndiaItalyMexicoJapanSpain


  1. […] which defines a new model for IT that meets the needs of the digital business. The first article, CEO: do you have the right CIO for digital, covered the CIO role. This article deals with the IT […]

  2. […] which defines a new model for IT that meets the needs of the digital business. The first article, CEO: do you have the right CIO for digital, covered the CIO role while the second article, CEO: is your IT function fit for digital, provides […]

  3. […] which defines a new model for IT that meets the needs of the digital business. The first article, CEO: do you have the right CIO for digital, covered the CIO role whilst the second article, CEO: is your IT function fit for digital, provides […]

  4. […] as it is in the digital age and so, to be a sustainable digital business, organisations need the right type of CIO, the right type of IT function and the right technology platform. The role of corporate IT is […]


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