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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.

Making digital an enterprise capability

Your operational house is in order, you are thinking “digital,” you and the CMO are best buddies, and you have stepped into the digital leadership void. Whether you have “digital” in your title or not, it is time to make digital an enterprise capability. This is not easy work. If you are like most CIOs, you see digital innovation happening all over your company. You are happy to see this activity, but you wonder how to wrangle it into a core enterprise strategy that can scale.

The digital center of excellence

To Rhonda Gass, CIO of Stanley Black & Decker, the $11 billion diversified industrial company, “IT is no longer just about being the back-office provider or supporter of transactions. The world is so digital, we are now providing leadership in serving, winning, and retaining customers.”

To provide that digital leadership, Gass and a business unit president have jointly created the “digital accelerator group,” which identifies opportunities for digital products and processes across the entire company. “It was important that the digital accelerator group not just be led by technology alone,” she says. “We needed it to be run by someone accountable for delivering products to the paying customer, which is not something IT traditionally does. We need our business leaders to stop equating digital with technology and to understand that they need to develop digital capabilities within their own businesses.”

For Dave Smoley, CIO of AstraZeneca, getting the company’s business leaders to focus on an enterprise-wide digital strategy is a work in progress. “The reality is, we’ve got pockets of digital activity all over the place,” says Smoley, who has been CIO of the $26 billion pharmaceutical company since 2013. “Our commercial business is focused on social and content creation, global medicine development is working with sensors and smart devices, oncology is looking at digital injection technologies, and we have multiple groups using digital to improve the patient experience.”

Smoley loves to see all of this focus on digital but, as of yet, sees only individual strategies. “Everyone is chasing the same problem, but we are not talking to each other,” he says.

For Smoley, the keys to bringing all of that digital innovation together are relationships and governance. “We need partnerships with the business so that we can assist in the identification and selection of technology, anticipate scale‑up opportunities, and enable a network of common interest that provides visibility to what each group is doing,” he says. “We need to work with these teams to ensure that their digital activity lines up with our corporate strategy. We need policies, rules, and the ability to fail fast and learn. Our goal is not to control the innovation but to facilitate the networking that results in learning, faster success, and a core digital strategy.”


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