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​The evolved CIO: What’s your plan as the first port of call when the CEO thinks digital?

​The evolved CIO: What’s your plan as the first port of call when the CEO thinks digital?

Let’s be frank – the CEO and CIO in any enterprise participating in the digital economy must be close.

The CEO and CIO must be in such close strategic symbiosis that they co-locate, talk daily, know the business inside-out, safely provoke each other and instantly sense-test the craziest of ideas. They must always retain faith in each other’s complementary knowledge and strengths.

When the CEO pivots the business vision to exploit and explore digital possibilities, they must be absolutely assured that their CIO is their close trusted ally – an aligned comrade-at-arms.

Digital today never sleeps. A CEO with ambitions to play on these uneven digital playing fields needs their CIO more than ever. The mantra today for the CEO-CIO relationship is ‘close’ and ‘connected.’

Connected enough to spot and harvest digital business opportunities from inside and outside the enterprise. Enough to make fast decisions on which ideas to test and take to market; to surprise and upturn competitors; flip consumer expectations; and reap value from the delivered reality. This is all done whilst juggling an overflowing innovation cycle.

We’ve been dodging around this evolving symbiosis of CEO and CIO for years now. We’ve been making excuses for structural dysfunction when the CIO is left floundering somewhere between products and operations, reporting to CFOs or COOs, or anyone except the ultimate head of the business – the CEO.

This disconnect has been called many names: pragmatism, technical necessity or perhaps operational fit. While we’ve simultaneously tried to recruit strategic, innovative, futurist, digital-savvy CIOs. It’s not very hard to spot the gap between role description and reality.

So let’s start to call the CIO role out as the one most likely to have a grip on the digital economy, as well as the talent and technical underpinnings required to design, deliver and assure the digital business model. Today’s successful CIO must have fully evolved from operational general management to strategic business leader.

The evolved CIO is the CEO’s trusted ally. They are the enterprise’s most critical player on the digital playing field, as the importance of connected people, things and data continues to morph and surprise.

The evolved CIO has an extended enterprise-wide remit. It’s a rich and influential role – one which demands that they excel at crafting and enabling business strategies just as well as what they’ve always done, better than anyone else in the c-suite.

That is managing the whole gamut of IT from emerging technologies through to scaled infrastructure and beyond, to the full warp and weave of contemporary digital ecosystems.

The evolved CIO is a scientist, an economist, a creative, and most importantly, an authentic leader of people who can find and bring together exceptional people. People who in turn can form and reform potent agile teams to take ideas and turn the best of them into reality.

Gartner’s annual CIO survey for 2016 analysed responses from 2,944 CIOs, whose organisations represented over US$12 trillion in annual revenue and US$250 billion in IT spend.

We saw a clear trend towards rising digital and innovation leadership in the CIO role, with over 30 percent of respondents already assuming those additional enterprise-wide responsibilities under the IT umbrella.

Over 20 per cent agreed that they were already a ‘trusted ally’ to their CEO and c-suite colleagues. That’s ‘close’, but is this good enough for a CIO cohort working in a global economy that continues to be uplifted and disrupted by digital levers on a daily basis?

When your CEO reads their morning news, social media feeds and thought-digests, what’s your response going to be when they call you at 8am asking ‘can we do this?’; ‘why can’t we do this?’; or ‘what are we doing about this?’ Are you leading or lagging in the digital zeitgeist?

Or imagine that CEO-CIO scenario turned 360 degrees: as the evolved CIO, you call your trusted ally – the CEO – at 8am with the same questions. That’s the future.

So, what’s the plan?

You need to have a clear aspirational digital business strategy and a plan to get there. Not necessarily a rigid all-embracing blueprint. The plan is vision led and principle based.

It has just enough detail to flesh out what an aspirational success may look like, provide guidance for executive and operational decisions, allow for flexibility and even wild pivots as you steer towards the vision. The only certainty is that there is little certainty. So the plan should be to steer your people and CEO towards the vision.

Who knows digital? You do. Who knows the global economy? You (should) do.

The morphing and surging of the digital economy is fast and relentless. You need to lead this through ideas. Your job is to turn great ideas into great realities. It starts with you, the evolved CIO.

2017 will see the rise of the CIO in the enterprise value chain: for only the skills and foresight of a talented evolved CIO can ultimately orchestrate the delivery of the CEOs digital vision.

Jenny Beresford is a research director with Gartner's CIO Advisory team. Previously, she has served as a CIO in global enterprises, held VP and GM roles in consulting and technology firms, worked as a hands-on enterprise agile coach, an innovation lead and a digital transformation director. Her professional interest is always piqued by courageous creative endeavours, and gravitates to the work of imagining, designing and creating the digital future.

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