For Successful Transformations, CIOs Must Evolve

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Read more about author Bobby Cain.

Our world is hybrid and becoming increasingly digitized – a study from McKinsey suggests that the pandemic accelerated companies’ adoption of digital or digitally enabled products by seven years. The ability to connect with one another like never before is exciting, but those connections don’t come without their challenges. For example, each new device communicating with the central network is a potential cybersecurity vulnerability, and replicating in-person collaboration among a remote workforce is daunting. Tasked with managing information flows, CIOs have a responsibility to address these challenges without sacrificing the employee experience.

Many CIOs had to change IT operations overnight to accommodate remote work conditions, building the tracks with the train still on them. Organizations with resilient IT infrastructures already in place not only survived the disruption of the past three years, but they blossomed as competitors played catchup. The lesson of the pandemic for CIOs, then, is that proactive agility and adoption is paramount to overcoming crises. Being proactive can also help answer ongoing questions of sustainability, diversity, and upskilling. But to lead successful transformations, CIOs must first transform their own roles.

Proactive Transformation Enables Agility, Resilience, and Sustainability

Transforming before disaster strikes offers numerous benefits. Removing burdensome technology and legacy systems allows companies to focus more on business agility and increase collaboration. For example, by shifting to a more constructive collaboration platform at the start of the pandemic, my company was able to commit to new virtual tools that enabled a productive hybrid work environment and engaged remote employees more effectively. 

In addition to investing in new technology platforms, we also put a big emphasis on investing in our people. We created a new position, the employee experience leader, who helps set employees up for success in their career, beginning with onboarding. A technology partner network with more than 50 locations offers on-site IT support, meaning help for our teams is never far away. By providing this level of advanced support, we’re able to add human touch to traditional IT needs, a crucial capability when remote work is the norm and employee retention is among the biggest challenges facing organizations worldwide. 

Building agility into IT operations is about more than handling a once-in-a-lifetime exogenous force. Upgrading legacy software, digitizing physical assets, and integrating emerging technologies enables organizations to enhance service offerings and unlock new revenue streams. Our new business model better addresses our customers’ dynamic needs and positions us as a trusted partner. 

Transforming operations also benefits entire ecosystems. In recent years, sustainability has become necessary, and digital solutions are at the core of building resiliency and supporting sustainable transitions. Adopting transformative technologies, such as digital twins, allowed us to take the former outdated legacy model and completely revamp operations to adhere to our climate-aligned goals. Sustainable operations are a boon for partners and customers alike. When one organization reduces its carbon emissions, that reduction shows up in the rest of the supply chain’s Scope 3 emissions.  

CIOs Must Become More Than Technology Leads

Transformations do not happen in a vacuum. They must align with business priorities, such as creating customer value, enabling growth or improving the employee experience. Despite the reliance on technology as a driver of change, the goal of a successful transformation should be for underlying technology to be invisible. Companies don’t transform just to manage and maintain new technology platforms. 

Catalyzing change while making technology invisible is where company leadership comes in. To succeed, it’s vital for leadership to have broad experience, because the role of the C-suite is evolving. In a recent survey, nearly eight in 10 CIOs said their role has changed during the past 18 months. Ninety percent of them said they are now trusted advisors to the business and not just a technology shop, and 89% say they now have greater accountability for the financial impact of their IT investments on the rest of the company. 

Because CIOs must adapt to new job requirements, it’s crucial that we don’t over-index the digital aspects of the position. It is not enough to just be a tech expert. CIOs should bring broader expertise to the table, such as collaboration and problem solving. We might even embrace creativity to help spur innovation or learn how to motivate. We must instigate change and champion transformation to the rest of the leadership team, not all of whom speak our technology-laden language. 

CIOs must also take a bigger role in recruiting. The IT industry faces a skills gap, so CIOs can lend more of their time to hiring programs, upskilling and talent retention, ensuring their teams have the talent to complete transformations. Getting personally involved in hiring and retention also allows CIOs to build diverse teams, hallmarks of high-performing organizations. 

To Lead Transformations, CIOs Must Embrace Their Own Evolution

Business transformations are often necessary during crises. But trying to transform during an emergency only adds unnecessary complexity. This in-the-moment complexity is precisely why Today’s CIO is in a prime position to lead proactive changes. First, however, modern CIOs must evolve, to focus on the less technical aspects of their roles. With net-zero carbon, diversity, and upskilling goals sharply in focus, technology leaders have a blueprint for their own growth. It’s a practice-what-you-preach opportunity that, when maximized, can drive organizational success for years to come.