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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.

Iyer thinks back to a CIO position earlier in his career when he and his team had some ideas for innovating on a major product. “We were so focused on operations, and so worried about the political backlash from moving in on the product group’s territory, that we didn’t bring our ideas forward,” he recalls. “In retrospect, we should have played it differently because we could have made a significant difference for our customers and our business.”

Years later, Iyer is not making that same mistake. “I don’t need to have a business sponsor for everything we do in IT,” he says. “I always have two or three innovative projects going on in IT where I, as CIO, am the sponsor.”

Ask for the job

During the year that Dave Truzinski spent as CIO of NII Holdings, he was vocal about the notion that digital engagement with NII’s customers would be the only business model to survive in the future, and he was named to the digital leadership position. “The very fact that I had been named CDO signaled to the entire company that we have to move to a new business model,” says Truzinksi. “The CDO title represented the recognition that we could no longer do business in the ‘industrial age’ way.”

For Donagh Herlihy, the move into digital started during his interview for the CIO position at Bloomin’ Brands, which runs Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and other restaurants. During his executive committee meetings, “the conversation focused on the shifting world of restaurant technology, and how companies are trying to differentiate through digital,” says Herlihy, now EVP of digital and CIO at the company. “We talked about how marketing, technology, and store operations have to work together to create and deploy digital solutions to deliver a great customer experience. And while collaboration between these groups is critical, we all felt that we needed one member of the executive leadership team to be on the hook for ensuring we had a holistic strategy, roadmap, and investment plan.”

Get to know your CMO

While we can all acknowledge that digital encompasses much more than marketing, CIOs who don’t have a great relationship with their CMO will not have much of a shot at the digital leadership position. “How do you know when the CIO and the CMO don’t get along?” asks Jay Ferro, CIO of the American Cancer Society. “When the CEO hires a chief digital officer. The CDO role is a Band-Aid for two executives who can’t get along.”

This CIO/CMO relationship business is new. Fifteen years ago, marketing was not IT’s focus. IT grew up with finance, supply chain, and operations, while marketing went to their agencies for technology solutions. “To build a trusted relationship with your marketing function, you need to get out with your end customers,” says Herlihy. “Without knowledge of your customer, it will be hard to gain credibility with marketing, and without credibility with marketing, it will be tough to move into a digital leadership role.”


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