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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.

The CIO as digital communicator

Taking on the role of the digital CIO involves more than bringing digital capabilities to your business. In a world whose employees and customers are becoming accustomed to blogs and YouTube and Twitter, “you have to be digital yourself,” says Andrew Wilson, CIO of Accenture. “You need a leadership style that appeals to the post-millennials; you need to be good on camera.”

Wilson differentiates digital CIOs from traditional CIOs. The digital CIO, says Wilson, is an orchestrator of a whole new supply chain of technology providers, a consultant who brings game-changing ideas to the business, and a new kind of communicator. The digital CIO is a role model for other executives still caught in legacy thinking, legacy operations, and legacy approaches to communication. “CIOs can no longer sit there with an IT budget waiting for the business to make demands,” Wilson says. “Technology is pervasive and always changing; the digital CIO should be the first to say, ‘technology can do this in the business.’ That is different from the past.”

So, how does the CIO of a global company of more than three hundred thousand employees, many of them under the age of thirty, demonstrate digital leadership?

For Wilson, who spent more than twenty years running an Accenture business before he became CIO in 2013, digital leadership permeates everything he does, from organizational design to SDLC, to how he communicates to his organization.

“As CIO for a company that employs a large number of post-millennials, I need to cultivate a brand that makes sense to that generation,” Wilson says. “So, I do not write e‑mails; I produce TV shows.”

CIO Live is a TV show that Wilson broadcasts quarterly to Accenture’s entire IT organization. It is shot with multiple cameras, on a set, and before a studio audience. “Imagine The Tonight Show with guests from the business and our senior leadership team,” says Wilson. “I open with a monologue that reflects on news headlines, some of the themes I am hearing from the Accenture marketing team, our critical measures of success, and key messages from our executive leadership. When we were launching an upgraded CRM solution and were about to relaunch our website, I talked about all of that.”

Wilson might have a guest from the marketing team demo the new website or ask his DevOps lead to stand up, “weatherman style,” to walk through a new dashboard. “The PowerPoint is dead,” says Wilson. “Digital CIOs need to communicate with digital products.”

Accenture is a sprawling global organization where Wilson’s guests may not be able to make it to the studio. “The head of our digital practice was good enough to join me, even though he was on vacation when I wanted him to be on the show,” says Wilson. “So he participated on the big screen just over my shoulder.”


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