Digitalisation and the evolving role of CIOs

The great Irish philosopher George Berkley once asked “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Iyad Alchammat

A man with a keen interest in the philosophy behind observation, Berkley believed that “to be is to be perceived”. From his perspective, since nobody heard the tree fall, it never happened. Fast forward 300 years to today, and this question still leaves us stumped. We have been able to spot this riddle in a more practical, modern day context. We are seeing private and public entities growing increasingly aware of the benefits that can be gained by embracing the wave of digital technologies, with their leadership understanding that in order to stay ahead of the curve a digital transformation is a necessity. This raises the question “if you own a business and haven’t yet embarked on the journey towards digital transformation, does the business exist?” If we follow Berkley’s logic, the answer would be no. This is where the right leadership, and more specifically an experienced CIO (Chief Information Officer), proves themselves crucial to an entity’s development.
The role of the CIO is one that has been evolving since its inception, with CIOs taking centrestage more recently as digitalisation initiatives within companies have garnered speed. Originally, CIOs were relegated to the back office, tasked with IT and data management along with the rest of the IT team, ensuring employees had the necessary technology and computer systems in place to support enterprise goals. Nowadays, CIOs are seeing their responsibilities, and budgets, expand. The role of technology has become less operational and more strategic, with IT now considered a revenue and growth enabler due to its ability to innovate and streamline processes both internally and externally. This transformative change has endowed CIOs with a large amount of power over the direction an organisation takes, thus changing the relationship the C-suite has with their CIOs.
So how should organisations contend with the increasing external pressure to digitalise and what part should CIOs play in this journey? We have a number of pointers.
n For starters, having a visionary CIO at the helm is instrumental. As aforementioned, the impact of the digital transformation is far reaching and will impact almost every company within every industry. Companies that understand these new dynamics and can adapt accordingly will thrive, those that can’t will struggle to survive. A visionary CIO that can put a plan in place and migrate to the right technology at the right time is essential in order to achieve successful digital transformation.
n Bringing IT into the boardroom is also a crucial step. Elevating the status of IT within the company is crucial should they want to get any digital rollouts off the ground. Gone are the days where IT issues were reserved for the IT department and the CIO — IT is now a pillar of the company’s business strategy and should be treated as such.
n Drop the IT jargon. Oftentimes, the biggest barrier to digitalisation measures is not reluctance but rather miscommunication. For CIOs increasingly working with other C-suite executives, adjusting their word choice is crucial to pushing projects through. Toning down IT speak and opting for more neutral, easily digestible terms, ensures other non-IT experts are able to understand the message at hand.
n Approach IT from a business perspective. Many companies still view IT investments as a luxury as opposed to a necessary investment. The truth of the matter is measured IT investments secure your relevancy in the market and make your business more competitive. Mobile penetration in Oman stands at over 173 per cent and everything from government services and groceries can be handled via a mobile app, ignoring the digital transformation is not a viable business strategy.
n Make it a point to get the right people onboard. Having the right team can save a lot of time, energy, and headache down the road. Digitalisation can be a lengthy and challenging process, having the right people in place from the start can make the process much more seamless for the business.
n Ensure your CIO thinks (and more importantly communicates) in business terms. It is crucial that CIOs are able to explain to leadership the reasons why something needs to be changed, as opposed to simply explaining how to go about this change. They should be able to effectively articulate how onboarding certain solutions will affect bottom lines and help achieve business goals, thus delivering value to the organisation. While strong IT knowledge is a necessity for the CIO role, having the right business mindset and communication skills is the recipe for success.
n Finally, speaking to the right professionals can make a world of a difference. Knowledgeable experts can provide a bespoke digital solution for your company. Technological transformations can be incredibly challenging for companies, which is why aligning yourself with a trusted partner can make the transition a comfortable experience. IT solutions are also not a one size fits all package, the right consultant will ensure the right combination of technologies are put in place with your bottom line in mind.
[Iyad Alchammat is General Manager (Oman) of GBM]