The role of the CIO has evolved as a result of business leaders’ expectations that technology is the conduit to achieving business transformation. We are now in the Third Platform of technology, which is pacing the role and mindset of successful CIOs today.

The first platform was about mainframe technology, where the CIO needed to keep the lights on and the systems operating and stable.

The second platform was about client/server technology, where the CIO needed to help create sustainable competitive advantage through leveraged technology. Given that it’s getting more challenging to sustain such advantages, the CIO is being called on to be more strategic.

For example, during the first two platforms, the CIO’s strategy was to be efficient with a low-cost workforce to keep legacy technology in operation to minimize new investments. The IT culture was based on hierarchical management that would default to ‘no’ on service and support requests. Project management relied on a ‘waterfall’ approach, with a sequential, linear, forward-only process that moved only when each distinct phase was completed in planned order. And there was no consideration for user experience.

In the Third Platform, where we are currently, the focus is on inter-dependencies between cloud computing, mobile computing, big data, social media, analytics and emerging technologies. This requires a different approach to IT, where agility is required to take advantage of fast-moving opportunities using technology’s speed, global availability and cost-effectiveness.

Today’s CIO uses innovation as a key strategy to develop and refine initiatives to meet business needs (both current and emerging). They invest in highly skilled employees who contribute within a culture of collaboration where the default answer to new requests is now ‘how can we achieve that?’ to maximize business value. Project management is iterative, where failing forward faster is prized over the status quo. IT is expected to partner and develop relationships with business leaders and stakeholders, clearly communicating performance issues and opportunities in terms of service quality using language that peers can understand. User experience is mission-critical to achieving competitive advantage, as is using new technologies (like cloud, mobile, apps, etc.).

9 things CIOs can do to prepare to lead digital transformation

To lead digital transformation within your organization, there are things you can do to prepare and build your skills, which follow in random order.

1. Make sure your personal IT credentials, knowledge and expertise is current.

Digital transformation leadership currently vacillates between CIOs and CMOs as people try to understand what it means for their organizations. Some companies hire Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) to take on the challenge. However, technology is the core of business today so CIOs will be a key player in the process in any case. Ensure that your digital expertise is current for credibility.

2. Understand the requirements and nuances of cybersecurity, especially in cloud technologies.

There is a misconception that on-premise servers are more secure than cloud technologies when, in fact, they can often be more vulnerable due to patches and updates on different servers, operating systems and databases. Experts are projecting that an organization’s cybersecurity rating will be just as important as a credit rating in the future. Evolved CIOs understand the benefits of cloud technologies for tight cybersecurity.

3. Brush up on your strategic planning skills.

While there are many skills needed to be effective in strategic planning initiatives, one of the main skills is being a good communicator which includes both active listening and explaining information. Strategic planning requires quick decision-making, based on solving problems through analysis of the factors contributing to it. Using analysis to identify and develop potential solutions to future scenarios is a key skill, as is brainstorming, collaboration and demonstrating leadership to inspire change and accountability.

4. Consider how the data you can access could be applied to new cross-industry business models, products and services.

For example, Amazon does this by using voice technology to track buyer preferences and behaviors for suggested sales. Another example is an Internet of Things device which reads heartbeats may be embedded in seatbelts to warn of oncoming heart attacks to prevent drivers from having car accidents. Agricultural companies are getting into the insurance business to get data on crop conditions for their customers to suggest product solutions. France’s LaPoste used their postal delivery data to determine a need for elder care, such as social visits and food delivery, to expand their services. What data is your company collecting that could be partnered with another provider or used to expand services to deliver greater value?

5. Iterate with ‘good enough’ results when it’s not a mission-critical initiative.

In general, IT has to be attentive to small details; however, sometimes good enough is enough. Determine where employees may be spending time on unnecessary projects or details to have the bandwidth to handle more appropriate and/or mission-critical initiatives.

6. Automate routine tasks so employees can focus on higher-yield projects.

Technology gives us the opportunity to automate routine tasks which often improves the efficiency and accuracy of those tasks while enabling human capacities to focus on non-automatable tasks that only human minds can handle. Make the most of your employees’ expertise, intellect and motivations by automating repetitive tasks.

7. Figure out how Blockchain’s technology could fit into and facilitate your company’s transaction network.

Blockchain lets multiple entities in a transaction share data on a universal ledger without a central authority, with each entity controlling its data and verifying transactions with a private key. This technology has the potential to simplify operational processes and reduce costs while accelerating performance and increasing security. Consider how your company can benefit from Blockchain technology.

8. Teach your colleagues the language, potential and nuances of technology.

It may be stating the obvious but almost every company is now a technology company. That means the C-suite and business leaders need to understand technology as well as CIOs understand business. Helping your peers be tech fluent helps them speak the language of technology, which shapes the organization’s narrative and facilitates next-level technology decisions.

9. Create a culture that supports consistent innovation (vs. simply handling day-to-day business).

Progressive companies that continue to deliver relevant, timely and delightful value to their customers are those that support, allocate resources for and reward innovation as a course of doing business. To lead digital transformation within your company means staying ahead of your customers’ needs and wants so you are prepared for them when the market changes and, even better, to lead the market in making those changes.


Digital transformation will result in upgraded workflows, data and performance. It will break down operational, cultural and technological silos. Data will be the key to opportunities, understanding trends and forecasting marketplace changes. The evolved CIO has the unique capability – and responsibility – to bring together the technology, data, trends and insights that will drive digital transformation for next-level competitive advantage. It’s simply the most effective way to make the most of the Third Platform and ensure long-term sustainability for their organization.

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