“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”. These famous words from Stephen Hawking have never been more relevant in the world of business today, mainly because we are currently experiencing the fastest rate of technological change in history. As a result, businesses globally are under pressure to adapt to the opportunities and threats that this brings. 

Whether a business is a Fortune-500 or an ambitious new start-up, organisations need to embrace innovation and agility in order to not only survive in the digital era but thrive. Done well, all parties involved will reap the rewards of financial stability, industry leadership and long-term sustainability.

That said, it cannot happen in silos. CEOs need the support of other C-level executives to reach their goals and are increasingly turning to their CIOs as the first step to initiating change. That strategy has the support of executives across organisations, as in the ‘State of CIO’ report Line of Business leaders see CIOs as strategic advisors and consultants when it comes to technology and business decisions. Only in the last 6 years has the CIO become a strategic player in the C-Suite, reporting directly to the CEO. As digital transformation initiatives continue to be top of the agenda for organisations today, that trend will only continue.

Digital disruption

Thanks to the digital era, the role of today’s CIO has evolved. In addition to their day-to-day operational duties, IT leaders are now responsible for driving digital disruption opportunities forward within the business to bring about transformational change. Those responsibilities can extend even further to an organisation’s marketing efforts such as how it communicates with customers and delivers on new experiences.

Deloitte’s popular ‘Global CIO Survey’ report looked at how the lines between IT capabilities and business expectations are blurring and how CIOs are in the best position to drive digital strategies across an organisation over any other C-suite exec. The report revealed a significant shift in priorities from “business performance” to “customers,” as a CIO’s top priority.

Interestingly, the concept of a ‘digital iceberg’ stood out in the Deloitte report. It found that some CIOs and business leaders see ‘digital’ primarily as the customer-facing technologies and front-end tools which a business can utilise. But this is just the tip of the so-called iceberg. Others see digital as an entire mind-set, where they believe technology is fundamental to transforming entire business models. This requires companies to embed technology into every part of the business, transforming the role of a CIO entirely.

The CIO is now the disruption evangelist in an organisation. They’re responsible for harnessing new innovations and forging a digital-first path forward for how the business operates. By identifying and employing the right business solutions, the way that works across the organisations is delegated, completed, and assessed can and will fundamentally shift.

For example, cloud technology is now seen as the new normal in managing an organisation’s IT as it alleviates the burden of legacy infrastructure management costs and maintenance hassles. As a result, it frees up the technology team for more strategic, growth-focused work – the second most valued business priority for CIOs in Deloitte’s report.

Widespread digital transformation is changing the business landscape in unprecedented ways. CIOs are now leading this process, ensuring employees, partners and customers receive the right tools and information. And that responsibility extends even further to driving business growth through technology and generating new revenue streams.

Innovation and its influence

In any digital transformation project, business leaders and CEO’s primary focus is on the end-user experience. But that’s only half of the equation, the impact of a new digital-first approach can have on the internal organisation is often overlooked.

That’s why it’s critical for CIOs to stimulate a new culture by motivating existing staff to shift their focus away from operational excellence to business transformation, inspiring an ethos of calculated risk-taking and a focus on outcomes. Without the talent to drive digital initiatives forward, the most well-thought through plan will have little chance of success.

Unfortunately, many organisations (50%) feel that innovation and disruption priorities currently do not exist or are in the process of being built in their organisation, despite 57% of CIO’s surveyed stating that it’s a core part of their responsibility now. Logical solutions to complement an existing IT architecture, such as capabilities for the integration of services and the flexibility to configure applications may not seem to support customer-centric objectives at first, but the effects they have will be felt nonetheless.

The reality is CIOs must assess the impact of innovation and how it will apply to business goals before a digital transformation strategy is implemented. That means understanding the behaviours, demographics, and motivations for all stakeholders, including employees, customers and partners. Striking that balance between building systems and implementing technologies that benefit both internal and external stakeholders, is where a CIO and ultimately, the organisation will thrive. CIO’s, shouldn’t be afraid of championing short-term disruption as it can yield long-term benefits at a time when organisations need it most.

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Dave Sohigian is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) EMEA at Workday, and tasked with helping customers to get the most out of Workday. He is responsible for communicating Workday’s strategy to customers and prospects, and informing the development organisation about market needs to influence future innovation. Dave joined Workday over seven years ago and most recently served as CTO for North America. Prior to joining Workday, he held a number of development and technical consulting roles and joined the organisation as Principal Enterprise Architect. Dave holds a BSc degree in Fermentation Science from the University of California, Davis.