IOUG Insight: Digital Leadership and the Strategic Importance of Technology

Digital transformation is taking place at an accelerated rate in the world today. CIOs are struggling to maintain legacy systems, while the world around them continues to transform at a rapid pace. At the same time, clients are expecting IT professionals to support the latest technology that becomes available. As IT continues to lag behind the digital wave, clients are becoming impatient and moving toward cloud technologies such as PaaS, IaaS, SaaS, and DBaaS to address their business requirements.

What can be done about this gap that continues to widen? In my opinion, two events must occur: First, IT professionals must learn to embrace the rapid change and become resilient, but, more importantly, business clients, customers, and partners must recognize that they need savvy IT professionals at the leadership table to advise them of this new world full of technology potential. The reality is that most organizations do not have a CIO (or equivalent) sitting at the executive leadership table. The CIO typically reports to another EVP in the organization. With this type of reporting structure, it will become more challenging for organizations to make good decisions as the technology becomes more complex and integrated.

Business clients, customers, and partners must recognize that they need savvy IT professionals at the leadership table to advise them of this new world full of technology potential.

Why this discrepancy? In my experience, IT has not been given the respect it deserves as a profession. There is little understanding about how powerful it can be for organizations to take advantage of technology with the help of IT professionals. In a 2012 research initiative at the MIT Sloan School of Management, organizations that embraced digital transformation in an innovative, yet responsible, manner were 9% to 26% more profitable than their competitors (“The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform Their Peers in Every Industry”). There are different types of digital maturity, according to this study, and not all of them are immediately profitable. Digital transformation on a large scale requires an investment, a solid vision for how technology can improve business process, governance, and a willingness to stay the course. This type of transformation cannot possibly be successful without IT representation at the executive level.

In a recent strategy + business article titled “Your Next Board Member Should Be a Geek,” not having a technologist involved at the executive level of an organization was described as being equivalent to a company not having any directors with financial expertise on its board. Yet, that is precisely what happens when it comes to IT. “Boards can no longer duck the responsibility for the company’s digital transformation,” the article noted. “They must take real ownership by ensuring that they are equipped to fully understand this part of the board agenda.” If this is indeed true, and I believe it is, inviting IT to the table is crucial.

The other side of this story is that CIOs and IT professionals must be willing to let go of what IT looked like in the past. The nostalgic world of IT from 5 or 10 years ago is long gone, and, if there is any hope of catching that digital transformation wave, we need to step up and take advantage of opportunities to learn about what these new technologies mean in terms of security, governance, data visualization, predictive analytics, and mobility.

There is tremendous opportunity to not only sharpen technical and architectural skills, but to consider leadership skills (regardless of one’s title) to be equally important, if not more so, in many situations. This is where connecting with the larger IT community through users groups such as the IOUG can help. The wave is here—grab your surfboard and enjoy the ride!