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'Fearless digital leaders'

Annie Bricker | June 10, 2014
David Aron, Vice President, Gartner, talks about leadership, changes in the business and how to tackle the oncoming digital future.

David Aron, Vice President, Gartner, keeps his eye on the top-brass of business. A thought leader on IT, management and leadership, Aron has almost 30 years of experience in the IT industry. CNME caught up with Gartner's 2009 Fellow of the Year at the research firm's Symposium conference and discussed regional leadership, changes in business and how to tackle the oncoming digital future.

 In the Keynote Speech that kicked off this year's summit, you said that we all need to be "fearless digital leaders." What makes a "fearless digital leader?"

In 50 years, when we look back on the last decade we will see that although we felt like this decade has been extremely productive, all we really have done is put our existing business models on the internet. Take e-books for example. We have taken a 200 page highly textual book and simply moved into a digital medium. Why can't we take this further? Eventually an e-book will be an interactive, highly-hyperlinked medium. Every industry has an example like that.

Occasionally, however, you see businesses taking the next step and acting as "fearless digital leaders." For example, there is a mobile phone company in Kenya called Safari Com. They looked around at their market and realised that while many people have no access to banks in Kenya, the majority of them have access to mobile phones. In what can only be termed a huge risk, Safari Com decided to become a bank. People were extremely sceptical and as such the regulators only let them take on a small part of their overall plan. The risk paid off and the venture was met with exceptional success. The last time I looked 25 percent of Kenya's GDP now goes through their system. Risk-taking like this cuts across traditional industry boundaries and power silos. You have to cannibalise yourself before someone else does. It is scary, but you need new skills and new ways of making profit.

What can the CIO of today start doing to become the CIO of tomorrow?

The question should actually be, "What can the CIO do to become the Chief Digital Officer?" The Chief Digital Officer is actually a strategist in a digital context. It's not IT, it is business strategy enabled by IT. As such, the position of Chief Information Officer may not be a shoe-in to transfer into the role of the CDO. If CIOs do want to make that transition, they must then lead initiatives that are outside of their control which can be uncomfortable for many CIOs. They also need to develop a great deal of additional skills. For instance digital design and anthropology--which is the understanding of human behaviour and how technology fits in. Also agility, this new role needs to be able get things done quickly. In addition they need to develop the ability to partner with start-ups which is a skill itself. The fact is that all these exciting innovations have left the big technology vendors stuck in the past. As it turns out it is a very unnatural act for a large vendor to partner with a small company. Those kinds of talents aren't in IT departments right now so if we want to make these transitions we have to foster those skills in our CIOs.


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