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Digital Innovation and the CIO

How CIOs are missing opportunities to lead digital transformation



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Chief Information Officers who see their companies losing opportunities in digital innovation need to break down the communication barriers between IT and non-IT executives according to a recent survey of UK, German and Dutch CIOs.

Nearly 25% of the 900 CIOs surveyed by Professor Joe Peppard and colleagues at ESMT said their companies were losing opportunities for innovation because their C-suite colleagues were not responding in a timely manner to digital- or IT-related proposals, or failed to dedicate the necessary resources to support the innovation.

The problem, according to the CIOs surveyed, is that only about half of the companies in the survey had non-IT executives with a level of IT understanding that is sufficient to identify digital innovation opportunities in their markets. Less than half of the companies had unanimous support for IT innovation from the C-suite.

Whatever the size of the organization, there can be a need to break down the communication barriers between IT and non-IT executives to realise innovation opportunities. This is how the researchers suggest CIOs address this issue:

  • Act like a business leader. CIOs must be business leaders first, and then functional leaders. They must understand the business environment, be completely engaged in strategy and innovation discussions, and accept the politics of the C-suite — it is unavoidable.
  • Speak the language of the business. Avoid technological jargon: it doesn’t sell. Speak in terms of contributions to growth, margins and cost reduction. And use appropriate business metrics to solidify the argument.
  • Get out of the office. Go on-site to better understand the needs and priorities of the other functions, and thus the technological applications that would best fit those needs and priorities.  
  • Promote IT as an instrument of change and innovation. Too many CIOs view technology as an enabler of change instead of a driver of change.
  • Coach C-suite colleagues and other leaders on digital issues.Update them on IT initiatives and new IT tools; write a blog on how IT might be used by the business.
  • Start chasing innovation. Be proactive in bringing together C-suite colleagues and other executives to launch innovative IT-related ideas and initiatives. Some CIOs create events, presentations and workshops to spark ideas.
  • Do not be the department of No. Get involved early to prevent technological barriers to innovation initiatives. And be open to cooperation with non-IT savvy people.

Too many companies are missing opportunities because of the wall between IT and non-IT areas of the business; it is the CIO who can take the leadership role in breaking down those walls.

Access the research paper: Digital Innovation in Large Enterprise: Strengthening e-Leadership at C-level. Joe Peppard, Simon Robinson & Tobias Hüsing. European Business Review (January 2015).


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