Digital Leadership ‘Flip’ a Priority for CIOs in 2015

By Aliah D. Wright Jul 6, 2015
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Digital first. Legacy second. That’s the leadership advice tech research and advisory firm Gartner offers chief information officers (CIOs) in its leadership trend analysis, Flipping to Digital Leadership: The 2015 CIO Agenda.

In it, the report’s authors state that “enterprises and their CIOs need to ‘flip’ from old to new in terms of information and technology leadership, value leadership, and people leadership.”

The report’s co-authors, Dave Aron and Graham Waller, address the question: How should CIOs adapt their leadership and management in 2015 and beyond, to ensure that their enterprises survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world?

Gartner describes digital business as the creation of new business designs that blur the digital and physical worlds. “Digital business promises to usher in an unprecedented convergence of people, business and things that disrupt existing business models. With more than 7 billion people, and businesses and at least 35 billion devices communicating, transacting and even negotiating with each other, a new world comes into being: the world of digital business.”

In its study, Gartner surveyed 2,810 CIOs, representing 84 countries and $397 billion in IT spending.

Highlighting the efforts of such companies as Quicken Loans and Volvo, the report details how those companies use a “digital-first” approach to deliver innovation to their clients.

Volvo’s vice president and CIO Klas Bendrik applied “digital-first thinking to solve a typical customer problem: getting home in time to receive a delivery,” according to Aron and Waller. “Instead, why not allow your delivery to come to wherever your car is located? Using digital technology, Volvo has piloted creating a temporary digital key for retail deliverers to place a customer’s order directly into the trunk of his or her Volvo car.”

It only makes sense.

Illustrating the convergence of technology and how people interact with it, a recent study by the Online Publishers Association revealed that 99.5 percent of respondents used handheld devices to access content and information in 2014. Experts say leaders need to improve the digital experiences of their customers, clients and employees by applying advances in technology to sovle problems at work

“It is clear that the digital world and its ramifications have already moved from the shadows to center stage, creating winners and losers in all industries and geographies,” the report states. “Cloud, mobile, social and big data are already central to business thinking, and the next set of digital technologies, trends, opportunities and threats is creating yet another competitive frontier.”

According to Gartner’s research, chief executive officers expect their CIOs to lead their organizations into the digital age. In order for that to happen, however, CIOs have to embrace a “digital now, digital-first” reality, in which they address long-standing challenges in value and risk management that could hinder “digitalization,” and replace pragmatic command and control with visionary leadership. In short, to start the “digital cultural revolution” required to seize this opportunity, CIOs must “flip” to digital leadership.

“Seizing the digital opportunity requires agility, adaptability and speed. However, existing business processes, business models, information, technology and talent suffer from legacy inertia and ‘bad complexity,’ ” the report authors wrote.

To that end, the report suggests CIOs “flip” the ways in which they operate by:

Flipping people leadership from control to vision.

While some chief information officers are shifting more of their time to managing IT, others are more fully engaging their senior leaderships and boards of directors. “Having a deputy, a ‘COO [chief operating officer] of IT,’ a CTO [chief technology officer] or equivalent, reduces the time a CIO spends running IT by 5 percent, or about a day per month,” the report states.

Flip leadership from “control first” to “vision first”

In the fast-paced and ever-changing digital universe, command-and-control leadership does not work, the report states. In fact, it can be an obstacle to innovation and growth. “Vision and inspiration are typically the most powerful attributes of digital leaders,” according to the report.

Flip from aligning with corporate culture to building a digital culture.

“A traditional, risk-averse corporate culture that views IT only as an infrastructural enabler of transactions will devour even the most innovative digital business strategy like a small snack,” the report states. To thwart this, CIOs and other business leaders should embrace digital throughout their business units.

In addition, the report says that leaders need to help their employees understand and be excited about where digital can lead their organizations.

“Education and inspiration are central tasks for CIOs determined to be digital leaders.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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