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Digital transformation leads to the rise of the ‘Super CIO’

Digital transformation leads to the rise of the ‘Super CIO’

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Luc Serviant, Vice President, Middle East and Africa, Orange Business Services

In the age of digital transformation, the first point of transformation must be the CIO. “Meet the ‘Super CIO’,” says Luc Serviant, Vice President, Middle East and Africa, Orange Business Services.

We can all see it with our own eyes but now it’s official – the UAE is ready for change.
KPMG’s 2017 Change Readiness Index (CRI) ranked the UAE third globally (from the 136 countries ranked) across three capabilities – government (rank two), enterprise (one) and people and civil society (17).

Within the enterprise sector, the UAE ranked one for infrastructure, two for technology infrastructure, and three for innovation and R&D.

This is an outstanding recognition but we see the evidence all around us as Dubai rapidly transforms into the world’s smartest city (by a factor of 10x).

Enterprises must keep pace – and they know it; this doesn’t mean incremental change but rapid and radical change. We see this within the CIO community members of our own Middle East Customer User Group, which comprises CIOs representing large enterprises operating across the region.

Survival of the quickest

According to the findings of SAP’s recent (July 2017) Digital Transformation Executive Study (supported by Oxford Economics), 84% of global companies agree that digital transformation is critical to their survival (survival – not growth and development) in the next five years – but only 3% have completed company-wide transformation efforts.

Talk is obviously cheap but inertia is a concern, especially when you consider that digital transformation was cited as a top-three driver of future revenue across all industries and all types and sizes of companies. The benefits of digital transformation are becoming apparent – the study says that Digital Leaders already enjoy higher market share and profits and expect to see strong revenue growth, as ROI on their digital transformation commitments and investments.

But who leads the digital transformation process and how do you organise to deliver a fundamental and complex change management process across an entire organisation? Where does it start and end, how does it start and how is it managed? How do you know it’s working? What technologies do you adopt to enable this digital transformation and how do you integrate these effectively?

There are some clues in the SAP study; digital leaders see digital transformation as truly transformational; they focus on customer-facing functions first; they focus on talent (it’s all about people); and they invest in next generation technologies.

The transformational CIO

The CIO is pivotal to the transformation process and they face an increasingly complex task.

CIO’s 16th (2017) State of the CIO survey shows that the role is itself transforming rapidly, from the core traditional role of network, IT and systems security, to leading the digital transformation process with an emphasis on winning customers and driving revenue, innovation and collaboration. 72% of CIOs surveyed admitted their struggle to balance business innovation and operational excellence, while 87% said the CIO role is more challenging than ever.

The good news is that 62% of CIOs surveyed said they are not feeling overwhelmed and actually find the job more rewarding than before. It’s just as well that IT leaders find the dual role satisfying because the transformational and functional responsibilities are now part of the job.
Remember: digital transformation is not a short-term operational challenge or a technology project.
It’s clear from the study that CIOs are spending more time on transformational activities such as aligning IT initiatives with business goals (53%) and cultivating the IT/business part¬nership (38%).
When CIOs look ahead, the bi-modal role shift becomes more dramatic: CIO respondents expect to spend 7% of their time on functional duties, compared to 20% currently. The bimodal role means that CIOs are part of the business leadership team (not just function leaders) with the dual role of establishing and maintaining operational excellence and security, combined with innovation and business impact (more retained customers and revenue).

For example, in the retail sector across the Middle East, we see more interaction between the CIO and the CMO, as digital customer engagement moves towards the centre of the overall strategy for growth. The customer relationship is at the heart of the retail experience focusing on engagement, payments, logistics and communications.

Digital business transformation is essentially a technology-enabled people and process transformation – a change process, but what technologies are CIOs adopting to help them enable, drive, support and sustain the transformation?

The CIO study suggests that emerging technologies like AI and Internet of Things (IoT), AR and VR, and wearables are still relatively small components of the company IT budget.

This will change quickly as digital transformation gains momentum and the CIO must master a new set of skills and technologies, transform him/herself first, lead the development of his/her own department, and the wider company.

Cometh the hour, cometh the ‘Super CIO’

So, what must this new breed of CIO do to succeed?

Given that the role of IT is being transformed as drastically as the rest of the enterprise, one challenge will be the set of new ICT skills – data analytics, security, application development, mobile and enterprise architecture – that are in increasing demand. The IT business unit must be seen as an enabler and driver of – and not a barrier to – digital transformation.

Silos have to go, and management must accept the central role of digital / IT within the business, while the CIO has to earn this trust and credibility – at the heart of business. In fact. IT must understand customers – internal and external – and collaborators, and this may mean actually meeting them! The team may also need to move physically and be seen as business-central and business-centric, and no longer as ‘the back office boys’.

The transformational CIO must be skilled in building cross function relationships, collaboration, influence, and foster good team working – all high level management and leadership skills; as well as an advocate and evangeliser of digital transformation.

In the new dual role of the CIO, the old IT job spec remains – network, security, systems, application architecture – and a readiness to engage with everything from BYOD to big data means CIO budgets are stretched, staff are hard to find and expertise is hard to keep.

The UAE is ready for digital transformation and it’s a tough assignment for CIOs who are increasingly looking for experienced ‘digital partners’ to help guide and support them. Change needs leadership and transformational change demands a new type of leader – this is why we are starting to see the emergence of a new-age digital business leader: the ‘Super CIO’.

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