Gaining the digital strategy high ground: IT vs. the organisation? Who wins?

Gaining the digital strategy high ground: IT vs. the organisation? Who wins?

Who should retain ownership of the organisation’s digital strategy appears to still be unresolved in some organisations

That digital technologies have and will continue to unleash disruptive changes on the commercial, regulatory and social landscapes is nothing new.

However, ensuring that your business remains relevant in the face of increasingly globalised competition, not to mention rapid and unpredictable change, presents an opportunity for both business and IT leaders to jointlyembark on a fresh approach to developing, implementing and executing an enterprise digital strategy.

The topic of who should retain ownership of the organisation’s digital strategy appears to still be unresolved in some organisations.

Where there is a tug-of-war for the ownership of digital strategy between the CMO, CDO, CIO or anyone else for that matter, reflects the underlying challenge of assigning appropriate executive accountability over an enterprise-wide, potentially complex capability which can cut across all lines of business.

It is well beyond the scope of this article to explore precisely what defines a digital strategy for your organisation, as perceptions and opinions will vary, however, for the moment, consider this:

If you asked each of your business executives what is meant by a ‘digital strategy’ for their business, how many different answers would you get?

For any specific organisation, the speed of, and approach to developing and implementing a digital strategy that will deliver real and sustained value, hinges on many factors. These vary from your type of industry, legislative and compliance dictates, organisation’s maturity, willingness to change or skills through to the persuasiveness of an influential digital evangelist.

Read more: 3 surprisingly easy ways to improve your next presentation

Where does your organisation sit on the digital scale?

On the one end of the complexity scale, your digital strategy could result in a relatively static and standalone company website, tablet or smartphone app.

On the other end of the complexity scale, you may be need to come to grips with a feature-rich, fully integrated multi-channel digital platform that integrates all customer, staff, business partner and supplier’s digital interactions across all touch-points in real-time 24×7.

More importantly, how will your organisation’s position shift along this scale over the coming years? It may be all good and well to start small, with quick wins and initial success, however what’s your situation going to look like in two years’ time?

Read more: Get ready for IoT disruptions across sectors

Recognise that your initial successes may not automatically scale with an increased scope of your digital strategy.

Moving from a relatively straightforward e-commerce or web digital footprint to a fully integrated, enterprise wide integrated digital strategy is a different game altogether, and one that has the potential to substantially increase the cost and risk to your organisation.

Question is: As a CIO, how best to you approach the issue of ensuring that your organisation’s digital strategy delivers real value with known risk and known cost over a period of time?

Read more: When the IoT meets your IT department…

If you asked each of your business executives what is meant by a ‘digital strategy’ for their business, how many different answers would you get?

Rob Livingstone

A casualty of speed – just make sure it’s not your business

Read more: Directors’ fees rise moderately, but workloads nearly double

One potential casualty of a headlong rush into implementing your digital strategy occurs when there is a change of scope.

Where organisations rapidly expand the scope of their digital strategies off the back of some initial successes, there is a real risk of loss of effective governance over the overall process. Rather than perceiving ‘governance’ as a handbrake on progress, it should be seen as a valuable asset, and one that will (if appropriately designed and implemented) protect value.

In many instances, the depth of skills and expertise in the architecture and governance over complex, interdependent enterprise technologies resides in the IT department (or outsource partner).

As your organisation shifts along the complexity scale, from standalone to fully integrated digital solutions, the importance of system and information architecture as well as effective governance has to be recognised.

Read more: 'A global bank can enter NZ without investing in bricks and mortar'

Where the ownership and accountability for the initial phase of a digital strategy may rest with the CMO or CDO, at what point is the CIO to be actively involved as the strategy’s scope and complexity increases?

For organisations that have quarantined their digital strategy from their CIO may well be sowing the seeds for future problems.

Well run and engaged IT departments in established businesses have the expertise in information and technology architecture, risk and governance in the context of their organisation. Not tapping into this valuable expertise, as a minimum, to validate the information and technology architectures and operational processes underpinning the digital strategy, could prove to be a costly mistake.

In the tug-of-war over who ‘owns’ the organisation’s digital strategy is still unresolved in your organisation, then the first step in resolving this challenge is ensuring that all stakeholders have clarity over the potential complexities, costs, risk and value of your enterprise digital strategy over time – and this is where the active involvement and deep engagement of your CIO is key.

Read more: Beware the flying car

Only then, should the executive accountabilities be assigned across the organisation for your digital strategy.

Rob Livingstone ( is a mentor, consultant, and industry advisor. He is the author of <b><i>Direction through Disruption</i></b> and Navigating through the Cloud. He is a fellow of the University of Technology, Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and IT, where he lectures to higher-degree students on leadership, strategy and innovation.

Send news tips and comments to

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Read more: Ministry for the Environment prepares to become paperless organisation

Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

Sign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.

Join us on Facebook.

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

Join the CIO New Zealand newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags marketingdigitalRob LivingstoneCDOdisruptionCIO

More about CMOFacebookRob LivingstoneTechnologyTwitter

Show Comments