The transformational CIO: Strategy, investments and navigating a digital future
The title of the recently-published 20th annual Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey, The Transformational CIO, says it all. As digital and cloud technology has evolved, IT focus has shifted from internal operations to customers, broader stakeholders control technology spend, and organizations themselves are forced to adapt, the CIO’s role must continue to transform.
While making a success of digital is proving tough, and they are hampered by an ongoing skills shortage, the survey found that successful IT leaders are proving resilient and adaptable, and the CIO remains vital in helping their organization to navigate a digital future. The CIO enjoys a unique perspective on everything from ‘shadow IT’ and handling data privacy and security to balancing governance and driving innovation. The question is: Are CIOs ready to take advantage of these real opportunities to extend their influence?
Digital success is proving complex
Last year more organizations than ever put a digital strategy in place, but that growth has faltered. Making a success of digital is proving complex — almost eight in ten CIOs (78%) feel their digital strategy is only moderately effective or worse. And, only 32% of organizations have an enterprise-wide digital strategy.
“It’s hard to successfully transform at an enterprise level, which is about changing processes, culture and norms,” says Denis Berry, KPMG US CIO Advisory Practice Leader, who added that the survey showed a corresponding increase in clear digital strategy within individual business units. “It’s easier to influence digital strategy at a business unit level than at an enterprise level, so that’s not surprising,” he explains. “What’s important within that is that the IT group is thinking through some of the how's and what’s of what needs to be in a digital strategy and helping business units push that transformation forward more effectively.”
The bigger survey surprise, he points out, is the lower confidence in the effective use of digital to address a range of common business goals, such as improving business process efficiency, enhancing the customer experience, attracting new customers, promoting employee collaboration and developing new products and services.
“That surprised me, because digital technology is really supposed to enable the business to do every one of those things in many ways, including lower costs,” he says. “I go back to the role the CIO needs to be playing in the organization — to advocate for digital and talk about how to apply it to the organization.” No one, he emphasizes, should have low confidence or worry that the use of these digital technologies will not address their common business goals: “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
IT investment continues to grow, but talent is hard to find
Last year the survey tracked how cloud investment continues to grow, and this year almost three-quarters of IT leaders reported moderate or significant investment. This comes as no surprise, says Berry, though another survey statistic, which showed that AI is rapidly developing wider adoption and newer technologies such as RPA (robotic process automation) have yet to break out, is a head-scratcher. “RPA seems like a no-brainer — it’s easy to identify a set of processes where RPA could be applied, with a cheaper barrier to entry,” he says.
Overall, however, the pace of change in technologies right now is unprecedented, with no clear way a CIO can keep up with everything. “The whole environment is complicated and getting more so every day,” he says. “It’s easy to understand the new technology, but it’s hard to articulate the implications and opportunities of new technologies that a business person might want to adopt.”
Meanwhile, IT organizations are struggling to find talent, which means the CIO will require the skills to be able to lead by influence rather than by critical mass, says Berry. “Capabilities may be pushed out to the business units, and it will also be about retooling some of the folks you keep on, buying resources, becoming more of a virtual organization where you’re working with contractors and consultants,” he says. At the same time, the CIO must continue to run its “back office shop,” enforcing standards, protecting the organization, assessing and protecting data, providing stability, optimizing back-office infrastructure and handling vendor management.
A big year to come for the Transformational CIO
According to the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2018, no other executive role is undergoing so much change as the CIO, but no other executive role has the opportunity to be as truly transformational. Ultimately, the “Transformational CIO” will serve as an orchestrator, helping business units be productive but protecting the core of the business, Berry explains.
But while the CIO role shape-shifts, the future of digital transformation as a rising priority looks bright. “There’s a lot of good press out these days about the use of these technologies to leapfrog competition, to optimize back office, to optimize interaction with customers,” Berry says. “Anybody sitting on the board of directors should be asking, ‘Why aren’t we digitally transforming right now?’ I see this as a big year coming up in requests for digital transformation strategy, as those who don’t move quickly will be left behind in such a fast-changing environment. It would take a long time to catch up if you just continue with business as usual.”
Which, of course, means a big year coming up for the Transformational CIO. There is so much for CIOs to deal with in order to retool themselves and their people; to work on talent retention; to continue to protect the organization; to learn how to influence and tell great stories to the business on the importance of these digital technologies. According to the survey, it’s up to the CIO to take advantage of both the unique opportunities and challenges to influence and control technology within the business.