CEOs see digital as a team game and the CIO still has the highest visibility, Gartner's latest survey of chief executives has found.
The findings by the analyst house, which spoke to 410 senior business leaders at the end of 2013, supports the statistics revealed by the recent CIO 100 which showed that most chief information officers in the UK were assuming digital leadership at their organisations, or that the digital sphere was shared between the C-suite with a smattering of chief digital officers also emerging.
When Gartner asked CEOs who they would allocate relative digital responsibility for leading digital innovation and change over the next two years, the CIO came out on top when this was bestowed on a single person, although with other roles also heavily involved, Gartner said that CEOs "clearly see digital as very much a collective operating committee endeavour".
Gartner fellow and vice president Mark Raskino said: "Expecting the CIO to be the prime mover in digital is a fairly sudden and major change of expectation and emphasis.
"Digital is strongly associated with innovation, in front of and for the customer. Two years ago our 2012 CIO survey found CIOs were low on the list of perceived innovation leaders. Over the last decade, CIOs and the IT function in general have often been tasked as IT cost managers and service quality assurers, but not as strong innovators or business strategy contributors.
"The sudden shift in expectation is likely to lead to some disappointments and we expect that in turn to lead to some churn in the role."
Of course, Gartner studies must be treated carefully - particularly after their often-quoted but largely discredited headline from January 2012 that CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs by 2017, although this latest survey reveals some information about who they spoke to, and also supports similar research by this title and Forrester.
Indeed, this month's CIO 100 found that while there was a separate digital leader at 12% of organisations, at 36% there was not one while 22% of CIOs responded expressly that it was part of their role.
Some 14% said that digital responsibility was shared between the C-suite, or was a joint effort between the CIO and CMO in our CIO 100.
Gartner is therefore pushing quite a similar line to that put forward by Forrester Research last November in its chief digital officer study, which found that, rather tritely, the CDO role was not necessarily essential - although organisations will need a digital champion and that this was best fulfilled by a combination of CIO and CMO at companies with a certain level of digital maturity.
And in the new Gartner CEO survey, Raskino suggests that the CIO is in the ideal position to be this 'champion'.
"Many business leaders are lagging behind in their understanding of what digital business means, and the disruptions that are only slightly ahead of them," Raskino said.
"One of the most important things the CIO can do over the next year or two is close the very big gap in understanding, by working on education for the board, executives, senior and middle management layers.
"A decade of believing that IT was a commodity function, to be mostly outsourced, has left many business leaders in a position of relative weakness. Their vision and knowledge of the changes that technology makes possible are not strong enough. Their abilities in making, deep, technology-enabled business changes happen are not well practised."
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