CIO

Linda Price of Gartner on a critical CIO focus for 2015: Being a powerful digital leader and influencer

How can CIOs help the enterprise understand and get excited about where digitalisation can take the business?

According to Gartner’s 2015 CIO survey, 79 per cent of CIOs in Australia and New Zealand recognise the need to flip their leadership style in the next three years, from ‘control first’ to ‘vision first’.

This is necessary, but it won’t be easy. Being a powerful digital leader and influencer takes time and there is no way around that. If CIOs don’t spend time being digital leaders, it doesn’t matter what their intentions are or what documents such as job descriptions say.

Running an IT organisation is a complex business, and when we compare the 2011 and 2015 Gartner CIO surveys, we find that the average CIO is spending more, not less, time running the IT shop – 5 per cent more, or an extra day per month.

But the survey data also tells us that, all things being equal, CIOs with higher performance as IT leaders spend significantly less time running the IT shop and delegate some business unit leader engagement. This gives them an extra 5 per cent of time, or a day per month, to engage the board, senior leadership and external customers.

This might not sound like much, but imagine if you were given a ‘time bonus’ of one day per month, and more importantly, your board, CEO, other CxOs and customers were open to spending that day with you.

Appoint a 2IC

There are many ways to create more time, but one specific way for a CIO to make time for leadership is to have a deputy responsible for running the whole IT shop day-to-day including support and development. One might call this a ‘COO of IT’. Some organisations call it a CTO, but that’s a title that can confuse because of its many meanings. Whatever the title, decoupling the day-to-day running of IT from being the digital/ information leader and influencer in the enterprise and its ecosystem reveals a powerful opportunity for CIOs.

CIOs with higher performance as IT leaders spend significantly less time running the IT shop and delegate some business unit leader engagement. This gives them an extra day per month, to engage the board, senior leadership and external customers.

Yet the data shows only 42 per cent of Australian and New Zealand CIOs have a deputy or similar, compared to 47 per cent worldwide. For those who do, it reduces the time they personally spend running IT by 5 per cent, or about a day per month, which is not insignificant. This message clearly isn’t rocket science, but the key is to take action, commit and be disciplined with the use of time.

Digital leadership is almost always about creating the new and leading with speed, often in areas with a high degree of uncertainty and no well-trodden paths to follow.

Next: How to increase the digital savviness of enterprises

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From ‘control first’ to ‘vision first’

Command-and-control leadership does not suit the high-speed, uncertain digital world; in fact, it can be an obstacle.

Vision and inspiration are typically the most powerful attributes of digital leaders. Most CIOs recognise this: 79 per cent plan to change their leadership style over the next three years, most commonly by amplifying their vision while reducing their command and control. Though visionary leadership is not generally part of their gene pool, CIOs looking to become digital leaders can take concrete action toward achieving it.

We also need to shift from aligning with corporate culture to building a digital culture. A traditional, risk-averse corporate culture that views IT only as an infrastructural enabler of transactions will devour even the most innovative digital business strategy. To avoid this fate, CIOs and other leaders need to lead a digital cultural revolution across their businesses, possibly their ecosystems.

From IT management to digital inspiration

To seize the digital opportunity, CIOs need to help the enterprise understand and get excited about where digitalisation can take the business. Education and inspiration are central tasks for CIOs determined to be digital leaders.

In addition to developing a shared understanding of digitalisation and what it means to the business, CIOs and other IT leaders need to increase the digital savviness of their enterprises.

Education and inspiration are central tasks for CIOs determined to be digital leaders.

Consider techniques such as study tours (visits to clients, customers or businesses with innovative technology), showcases, informal interdepartmental brown-bag lunches, digitally savvy non-executives in governance bodies, reverse mentoring and hackdays.

It’s not enough to admire the problem. A CIO may run a great IT shop, be aware of digital trends on the horizon and even participate in digital experiments and innovations. But all this is still not enough. CIOs have a unique opportunity, but they must flip their information and technology, value, and people leadership practices to deliver on the digital promise.

Linda Price (linda.price@gartner.com) is group vice-president, Gartner Executive Programs, Asia Pacific.