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CIOs must step into the digital leadership void

Martha Heller | Sept. 23, 2016
In this excerpt from her latest book, 'Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT,' contributor and IT executive recruiter Martha Heller discusses the CIO's role in digital leadership.

What’s more, chief digital officers are often really chief marketing officers (CMOs) who have boned up on digital technologies. But “digital” is so much more than marketing. “We are so digital,” some CEOs think. “We no longer use print ads; we advertise on social media now!” But they are missing the point. Digital is not only a new way to market; it represents an entirely new operating model.

Dave Truzinski was named CDO a year after joining wireless provider NII Holdings as CIO. To him, a digital strategy is one that acknowledges that “algorithms trump organizations.” According to Truzinksi, “For years, we’ve been taught that when we have a business problem, we can solve it by bringing teams together and that the more people we have, the more power we have. But that thinking is a byproduct of how organizations have evolved. People and processes create latency; algorithms create speed. In the digital age, we need to move our core business processes to algorithms. Imagine what would happen if we automated everything your back office teams did and then told them, ‘Now that you are free of that manual work, spend more time thinking about your customer and driving top line revenue.’

Moving an entire organization from industrial thinking to digital thinking is a big job. We are talking about an operating model that has been with us since the nineteenth century that we are trying to change in only a handful of years. Does a marketing executive have the end‑to‑end process knowledge to bring digital to the back office? Can a career strategist tie a social media strategy to the messy quagmire of your infrastructure? Does a product executive have the broad influencing skills to change the way an executive team understands every facet of their business?

I doubt it, and Bask Iyer does too. “In many instances, a company’s most promising digital leader is the CIO,” he says. “Digital transformation is more than painting a shiny picture of the future; digital transformation means tying the back end to the front end, which CIOs have done over and over again.”

Becoming a digital leader

A digital leadership void is afoot, which represents either a threat or an opportunity to the CIO. One viable option, of course, is to acknowledge the existence of your company’s new CDO and develop a solid relationship with her or him. You have played this role in the past by partnering with sales, marketing, product, and the like. But, in the past, those partners have not been as involved in making technology investment decisions as the CDO is today. If your CDO is not in it for the long haul, then picking up after this new technology leader may not be much fun.

 

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