The Impact of Digital Transformation in CIO Leadership Fundamentals 

As the era of digital transformation and technological innovation continues to emerge throughout the business sector, leadership fundamentals are forced to adapt. Through new technology, longstanding rules that established the foundation of business practices are now evolving to create the most efficient customer-centric environment possible.

Transformation Masters – The New Rules of CIO Leadership

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review Analytic Service (HBR) titled, Transformation Masters – The New Rules of CIO Leadership, is making it’s way to various channels within the C-Level realm. In this article, HBR addresses the topic of how emerging technology is forcing CIOs and other influential business leaders to completely re-evaluate their current practices.

To keep up with the various demands of customers and projects, businesses are expected to deliver results in a much faster, more efficient manner. As digital transformation takes nearly every aspect of business operations by storm, CIOs are faced with two choices; learn, adapt, and integrate emerging technology into pre-existing practices, or fall through the cracks of competition and lapsed organizations.


Rapidly changing market forces are challenging the way businesses can meet industry specific demands. Speed and collaboration are now the two prominent themes that encompass the seven rules of the organizational core. These seven fundamental concepts have served as the base of customer centered business practice for decades. However, emerging technology is forcing these rules to change, and accompany the new ways of doing business through digital means.

digital transformation

Next Level Customer-Centricity

As HBR states, listening to customers simply is not enough anymore. Integrating feedback from customers through a more dynamic and relationship based approach is the key to retention. Most importantly, IT must be incorporated in every aspect possible within the fundamentals of these practices. HBR highlights the multi-faced approach to next level customer support, which incorporates the following engagements:

  • Hands-on Focus Groups

  • Frequent Customer Engagement

  • Working on the Front Lines of Business

  • Product Co-development with Customers

By merging idealization and technology through focus groups and frequent customer engagement, organizational empowerment is achieved. Digital innovation is turning the concept of more evolved and efficient practices into reality, all through the driven purpose of meeting unique customer demands.

Managing Products over Projects

As HBR states, projects are a means to an end. They have a start to finish approach with a focus on the end result. Because of this, project management is often not done through a customer-centric approach. Mitigating costs, hitting deadlines and thus limited time for development are the base of project centered management.

Products however, are managed by individual teams throughout their life spans. Each product has an owner, manager, and a team for support and development. Wal-Mart CEO Clay Johnson states:

Once an IT organization shifts to a product model, with the whole product team involved, you end up with a quicker development cycle and a better product at the end.

Clay Johnson, CEO

This approach often intertwines IT support with business development, which is where innovative solutions are sparked. This approach to product management incorporates key aspects of continuous innovative support:

  • Incorporation of Product Road Maps

  • Identifying Product Value from the Customer’s Perspective

  • Mapping Various Steps in the Value Stream

  • Focus on Full-Time, Cross Functional Memberships

Use of Agile Lean Methods

Operating through agile methodologies are a commonplace within IT organizations. However, scaling agile efforts beyond just a few small development teams is a key aspect in the digital transformation effort. IT-driven businesses now realize that they do not have extensive time to adapt and incorporate new solutions to their structure. Further, simply meeting the demands of customers without going any further is not enough anymore.

HBR highlights the efforts of industry giants, like AT&T and Cardinal Health, which apply the concept of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to their organizational practices. An increasing number of CIOs are also placing an importance on DevOps, which merges the efforts of digital innovation and operations management. Doing this, as HBR states, requires a deep shift of thinking, and should not be done without a thorough internal audit to existing business practices.

DevOps-driven management with agile based integrations leave a continuous challenge on an organizations output and message to the market. It requires constant innovation, technology adaptation and a purpose to go the extra mile for the customer. However, a focus to continuously push the digital envelope ensures agile-driven organizations do not get left behind with the emergence of new technology.

Empowering Experiments and Learning from Failure

Through agile business decisions and a focus on digital innovation, more companies harness the freedom to experiment and fail fast. Often, it is hard to place importance on projects that may or may not result in ROI. However, this is indeed the monotony of project-centered management, rather than product-centered.

HBR incorporates the importance of focus groups for this segment. Empowering employee and customer engagement is the spark that ignites the adapted results of experimentation. Toyota’s Connected Technologies group is one of the many organizations that places a high importance on experimentation to fuel their product integrations. The result is a mindset to go the extra mile for the complete satisfaction of the customer, which sends a message of customer-centric support.

To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO

Tech Game Evaluation – Developers and Orchestrators

Businesses in every industry are now placing an extremely heavy importance on adapting and learning new technology. As new software continues to develop at an alarming rate, businesses are forced to pay constant attention to where they stand in the aspect of their IT support. Machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and a constant demand to raise the bar of software engineering force industry giants to gather as much IT related expertise as possible.

Toyota’s Connected Technologies group is staffed with 95% software engineers, which operate for the purpose on developing new industry specific technology faster than other competitors. However, some of these huge corporations are seen as outliers, and understandably so. Most smaller organizations do not have the means to hire a massive team of software engineers with the sole purpose on developing new technology. Therefore, these organizations, known as orchestrators, are forced to keep up with and adapt the technology already in play.

Orchestrators place an importance on speed, scalability, and of course agile product management. Companies are building their own IT talent from within in order to maintain newly adapted technology. This requires a very dynamic approach to organizational structure, and constant communication between multiple departments. For example, IT and marketing may work together in the promotion of a new product that incorporates a popular technological solution.

Going Beyond Collaboration

As technological foundations grow within businesses, employees must take it upon themselves to learn the technology adapted. As the lines between IT departments and other practices begin to blur within company structures, professionals must learn to think from the perspective of the customer. Delivering a user-friendly product that eliminates middlemen and the need for frequent assistance is ultimately the end goal. Therefore, developers engaging in innovative solutions need to think from the perspective of least resistance. Companies must align their innovations to the user-friendly, simplistic demands of their customer base.

To paraphrase from HBR, co-authoring is a step beyond collaboration and alignment, which suggest two separate entities. Multi-national organizations like AT&T and Wal-Mart have begun to co-locate specialty teams that are responsible for specific products, or value stream efficiency. This strengthens communication within the arms of the organization, and keeps the business as a whole on the same page within their innovative life cycle. This also has an impact of how IT efforts in an organization are funded. By maximizing innovative efforts in multiple levels of the value chain, CIOs will be more reluctant to invest in more development based efforts.

Making Adaptability a Crucial Power Skill

The pace, technology, mind set and expertise needed within the realm of an agile driven business are different entities. While the business as a whole can place an importance on DevOps and agile business practices, the various levels that incorporate those initiatives, and how they do so, are rather dynamic. Therefore, in every level of the organizational structure, adaptability is a crucial skill to learn and enforce.

To paraphrase from HBR, this involves integrating flexibility into IT practices and developments, while taking advantage of reusable components and APIs. Altogether, a one size fits all mindset has no place in an IT-driven organization. From the perspective of industry giants that have adapted this mindset into all aspects of their business, change is seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. This is ultimately what separates the organizations that continue to push the digital envelope, like Apple products, from companies that get left behind.

In conclusion, organizations that embrace change, experimentation and failure keep their environment customer-centric and non-stagnant.

Access the Full Article By Harvard Business Review

The New Rules of CIO Leadership

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