How CIOs can transform the workplace


How CIOs can transform the workplace

There’s no way around it: most modern businesses need digital transformation. But what does it take to do it successfully? Here’s a look at how a CIO can make the necessary changes to transform their organisation.

Customers and markets are moving too fast for non-digital channels to manage, and there’s no way to effectively keep up with new technologies and products without a strong and flexible digital infrastructure.

The CIO and IT team are the obvious candidates to lead digital transformation projects, but are they ready? What skills do they need and what strategies can CIOs pursue to become an IT manager of the future?

“The CIO needs to be in charge of transforming the business,” says Richard Mitton of Superloop. “And that means first understanding that their job is no longer to run infrastructure. It’s now to support business objectives and deliver business outcomes.”

Before even approaching technology decisions or deployments, this means two things: the CIO must become a business partner to the C-suite, and must also transform the way the IT team understands its role and interactions with the organisation.

Transforming the CIO’s role

It bears repeating: CIOs must focus on understanding their organisation’s service or business goals. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Ogilvy & Mather’s CDO Brandon Berger gives CIOs five tips for driving digital transformation projects:

  • Place digital and technology at the core of the business.
  • Drive digital transformation from the top.
  • Form partnerships with other technology and business counterparts.
  • Ask ‘How can I help?’
  • Put digital strategy into pace with ambition.

It’s worth noting that the first four revolve around changing the CIO’s role from a technology infrastructure provider to a business partner fully aligned with business goals.

This means engaging with every business unit or silo, from sales and marketing to product teams and the payroll office. Only by understanding the whole organisation, including its workflows and workarounds, can a CIO grasp the extent of the transformation needed and decide how best to make it happen.

Transform the IT team

The IT team must undergo a similar shift in thinking. Their role will no longer be to install software and roll out hardware upgrades. Rather, it will be to constantly refine and improve the apps, services and business tools their colleagues and customers require to do their jobs.

“Every app stack is unique, but the technology behind them is generic,” Mitton says. “So IT teams need to understand what’s unique. They don’t need to be experts on the generic.”

Getting the technology right

This means putting in place a fast, flexible and highly mobile IT infrastructure that will allow team members to tailor their workflows to their clients’ needs.

“It’s the whole dream of mobility, access to data and apps wherever you are,” Mitton says. “I see employees get the benefits of walking into a boardroom and having access to information, - connecting to their desktops remotely, transforming manual processes, moving workflows online, digitising assets. Done correctly, it just works.”

This means migrating the business to the Cloud and using associated technologies to realise the full benefits it brings – the so-called ‘CAMSS’ stack (Cloud, Analytics, Mobility, Security, Social):

  • Cloud: To provide scalable, on-demand access to storage, compute and more
  • Analytics: To gain deeper insights into customer behaviour and internal processes
  • Mobility: To allow access to data and tools wherever and whenever necessary
  • Security: To prevent data, economic, reputational and other losses
  • Social: To allow rapid, multi-channel communication with customers and team members.

It’s best to start small – any new projects are prime candidates to be Cloud-first and Cloud-only, and will provide the team with valuable experience and some early ‘wins’.

Transforming the organisation

With all the above in mind, how can a CIO go about making the changes needed to transform their organisation?

The Harvard Business Review suggests that a transforming CIO should be a ‘compassionate contrarian’. This means finding better ways to do things by challenging current models and looking beyond current practices.

Crucially, it also means understanding the human element. As HBR notes: “People have to believe you are not fighting your corner. This is not about IT; it's not even about the business. It's about working from the customer backwards.”

This also helps avoid the ‘shadow IT’ problem, where individual silos and business units set up their own systems to solve business problems for their customers. “We see it [shadow IT] where the CIO hasn’t delivered a complete vision or solution,” Mitton says. “Staff are enterprising and will find a way to achieve their goals.”

It can be a hard nut to crack. Getting started with a Cloud service like Salesforce or AWS takes little more than a phone call and a credit card, while others like Dropbox and OneNote are free, and they can be up and running in hours, if not minutes.

The key is to understand why team members might turn to such services. Usually, it’s because the internal IT team isn’t providing the business solutions the rest of the business requires.

“The CIO has to capture the entire workflow,” Mitton says. They must then deliver to the business an improved version “including apps and access to data, so staff don’t need anything else”.

Provide a complete solution

Mitton has seen some organisations sail through their transformation projects while others struggle. It’s not only a matter of understanding the business, mapping its processes and providing new digital tools. He notes it’s also a matter of encouraging adoption and driving home the business benefits by delivering:

  • A vision of the service, stating the benefits of the systems being delivered.
  • A strong outcome that provides the benefits described and delivering on the vision.
  • Training and induction, based on an understanding of the user journey for both the internal team and customers.

On the other hand, organisations that struggle often do little more than simply explain the new technology and how it works without tying its functionality back to customer and business outcomes. This is fundamentally a matter of overcoming resistance to change and ensuring users understand the benefits to themselves and their customers.

Change can be discomforting and even intimidating – one of the CIO’s most important tasks is to communicate that, ultimately, change and transformation are necessary and invigorating.