TotalCIO

Jan 29 2014   10:32PM GMT

Digitization, the role of a lifetime for CIOs, or curtains?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Digitization makes information so easy to access and disseminate that it comes in waves and piles up like mountains — and the volume can make a day spent in proximity to a computing device, in other words just about every day, seem like a month’s worth of experience. It’s still January but already those 2014 resolutions seem so last year. That’s how fast time moves. I blame this digitalized time warp on you, CIOs. At least, you’d better be to blame, according to the latest CIO research advice.

Digital disruption is about to tear down and rebuild every industry. The competitive context for corporate leadership teams has shifted,” writes Forrester Research analyst Nigel Fenwick in this month’s SearchCIO tip.

A former CIO at Reebok UK (in his tender 20′s), Fenwick specializes in the impact of technology on business. The old rules of corporate competition — the bigger and more optimized, the more likely to win — have given way, Fenwick writes. Gone, poof! The race now favors the lean and adaptable. And the winners will be those organizations propelled by “innovators who are disrupting every industry by delivering value-added services to digitally-savvy consumers.”

Fenwick believes this is a pivotal time for CIOs, presenting you the opportunity to take the limelight or be left in the shadows. He offers advice (partnering with the CMO is critical) and leadership examples from the likes of Delta Air Lines, Nissan Motor Co. and Nestle.

It’s not just Forrester sending out an SOS to CIOs. Consultancy Gartner Inc. casts digitization in an equally portentous light. In a new report, “Taming the Digital Dragon: The 2014 CIO Agenda,” the consultancy hails digitization as the “third era of enterprise IT.” It’s a dangerous era indeed, in which the very capabilities you acquired to thrive in the second era of IT (marked by back office efficiency) actually undermine your chances to prevail right now. If you’re like the 2,339 CIOs responding to Gartner’s annual CIO survey, this new “digital paradigm” for enterprise IT makes you anxious: over half (51%) are “concerned that the digital torrent is coming faster than they can cope.”

One of the reasons for this anxiety, Gartner believes, is that corporations “have a vacuum in digital leadership.” Yes, companies are hiring chief digital officers left and right, but therein is the problem. One person cannot be held responsible for digital business. The resources required to succeed in the digital era include all business leaders — the digital savviness of the CEO is apparently “one of the best indicators” of success, according to Gartner. And on the IT side it requires a “post-modern-ERP” mindset, leveraged by public and private clouds, and carried out by people who are good at digital design, data science, startup skills and agile development.

Of course, consultancies like Gartner and Forrester make their money by proclaiming vacuums and offering to fill them. But I’m ready to give them this: many companies do not have the organizational or IT structures in place yet to exploit this era of digital business. And CIOs do seem to be at a crossroads, poised to design and implement the systems for this era or be left behind. The good news is that the choice between the limelight and lights out appears to be up to you. Fill the vacuum!

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  • Ben Rubenstein
    Definitely agree with this take - it's necessary for CIOs to rethink their roles and expand their domains. I do think that the fervor for CDOs represents an opportunity to reshape the conversation around that role - and part of that conversation may be that it makes sense for technology to be a key part of several roles, rather than consolidated into one.
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