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The new digital leader

Business man holding a Digital Tablet during the meeting

CIO Evolution

The pace of technology change forces Chief Information Officers (CIO's) to change their mindset. Technology innovation changes the fundamental game of business and disrupt legacy business models. This presents new challenges for business leaders. Some organizations may need to re-imagine and re-invent their business models to survive and to stay relevant. Digital business is creating new business models by blurring the digital and physical worlds. This is often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. The digital onslaught is changing the CIO mandate. The fast pace of technology innovation for the past 5 years, for instance 3D printing, smartphones, wearable's, cryptocurrency, Fintech, robo advisors, blockchain etc. has disrupted many industries. This is becoming a new normal. It's business unusual for most organizations. Business leaders need to embrace technology change and take advantage of the next technology innovation, for instance, Quantum computing, smart workplace, smart robots, 5G communication, edge computing, API-based digital commerce and 4D printing, to name a few. They need to be at the forefront of these technology innovations. The era of accelerated change caused by technological advancement present opportunities for organizations that are innovative and adaptive to change.

So how did the CIO role evolve in response to technological changes in the market? The diagram below depicts the CIO evolution.

CIO Evolution

Traditionally the CIO led all technology related initiatives. As technology advance and organizations evolve, this led to the introduction of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) focusing on fit for purpose and scalable technology solutions for the business.

The emergence of the new digital leader aim to bridge the gap between business and technology, focusing more on improving customer experience using digital technologies.

Some would refer to the new digital leader as Chief Digital Officer (CDO). Digital technology is a strong strategic pillar for most organizations, thus it make sense for the CDO to report directly to the CEO. However this will differ for some organizations, based on their size and business strategy. Having the new C-suite executives, for example, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Data Officer etc. is good however may present some challenges if not aligned with the business strategy and operating model.

The pace of technology change alter leadership roles and responsibilities.

New digital leader (CDO)

The CDO biggest drive is to ensure effective and efficient execution of the digital transformation strategy; to derive desired business outcomes and in the process deliver incremental value to customers. Making sure strategy delivery is aligned with the digital vision of the organization for value creation.

CDO qualities

The new digital leader should use digital technologies as a competitive advantage for the organization. Some of the qualities of digital leaders may include the following:

  • Ability to manage large scale changes;

  • Possess transformation leadership skills;

  • Ability to bridge the gap between legacy IT architectures and new digital technologies (Design oriented);

  • Drive innovation and experimentation inline with the strategic governance framework; and

  • Cultivate innovative and digital culture.

These leadership qualities requires individuals with a mixed set of skills, for example business acumen, digital, customer engagement, innovation, adaptive and high emotional intelligence. The new digital leader must be a strategic thinker, must have energy and the leadership skills needed to drive deep changes "Digital transformation". The strategic focus for the new digital leader is to challenge the status quo at the board and C-suite level; address expanding digital skills gap; cultivate innovation and inspire others to be part of the digital vision, unifying everyone through a common goal. He or she need to lead all digital transformation initiatives, collaborating with the C-suite counterparts. New digital leaders most often report directly to the CEO.

CDO characteristics are: entrepreneurship, disruptor, innovator, visionary and business strategist.


The CIO still needs to keep the lights on and strategize for the future using digital technologies. From a Bimodal IT perspective, the CIO maintains stability and sustainability of the organization. The CDO focus on innovation and agile experimentation, transforming the organization and creating new business models. For example, this suggest that the CDO will create a new digital business model and then CIO will sustain and maintain that model. There's a still a blurring line of responsibility between CIO and CDO, however these two executives should collaborate and support each other.

According to Gartner (2017) research, many enterprises appoint a strategy-oriented CDO to lead a digital transformation. CIO's should treat this kind of CDO as an ally, not rival. CDO's are primarily strategic change agents that focus on exploiting technology innovation.

Will the CIO role evolve to CDO?

The CIO role is changing from a technology delivery executive to more of a business operating executive. Since the CDO role is mainly responsible for digital transformation execution. One would argue that CDO's operates within a project lifecycle timeframe, for example 3 - 5 years window. In contrast the CIO is seen as a long-term strategic role for the organization. For a new digital business or start-up that doesn't need to manage legacy applications, processes and data centers, it makes sense to hire a CDO. So CIO's should welcome CDO's and learn as much from them to sustain the organization in the future.

Seven digital transformation strategies

Digital transformation is concerned with transformation of key business operations, structures, ways of working and organizational culture. Digital transformation strategy should serve as a central concept to integrate the entire coordination, prioritization and execution of all digital initiatives. It should be aligned with overall business or corporate strategy.

Our four step strategy management process will help you analyse and formulate a sustainable digital transformation strategy for your business. We help businesses re-imagine, re-invent and ignite their digital transformation strategy and ensure all underlying assumptions as well as transformation progress to date are measured.

The diagram below depicts seven digital transformation strategies.

Digital transformation strategies

Seven digital transformation strategies

1. Digital strategy

Digital strategy is usually invented and ignited by leveraging digital technologies to create a superior and differentiated customer value. It is essential to transform business operations from analogue to digital business model. Digitizing business operations in the process.

2. Cloud strategy

Cloud reduces management overhead, cost of running IT infrastructure and foster innovation. It allows the organization to focus on what matters most for customers and business. Enable organizations to deliver customer value faster than before. It transform organizations operating model for instance, from using traditional on-premises data center to on-demand cloud services.

For more insights, refer to my blog, "Strategize in the Cloud".

3. Artificial intelligence (AI) strategy

Imagine and invent AI strategy for deeper and broader integration with existing applications and IoT solutions. AI is useful in instances where interactive chatbots and advanced analytics are exposed to very large datasets. Big data is a key enabler for AI. Organizations can use AI capabilities to gain competitive advantage.

4. Mobility strategy

Mobility allows you to work on multiple mobile devices, access information from any location via internet (broadband) using mobile apps. Mobility strategy help organizations integrate and transform technology assets from desktops, laptops to mobile devices, for instance, smartphones, tablets etc.

5. Smart workplace strategy

Gartner (2017) defines the digital workplace as a business strategy to boost employee agility and engagement through a more consumerized work environment. Imagine and invent a smart workplace strategy that matches the organization's strategy and meets its business objectives. This is key to create a conducive environment for innovation, creativity, enjoyment, collaboration and learning.

6. Social media strategy

It is important for business leaders to understand social media impact on the business, imagine and invent a sustainable social media strategy. Organizations can use social media data to understand customer behavior better and for marketing purpose.

For more insights, refer to my blog, "Leverage Digital Technology".

7. Internet of Things (IoT) strategy

Imagine and invent IoT vision and strategy to take advantage of IoT solutions in order to deliver the desired business outcomes, such as cost savings, operational effeciencies etc.

Proper change management is crucial for successful execution of these strategies.

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#CIO #CDO #Leadership #CEO #Digitaltransformationstrategy #Newdigitalleader

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