Five traits of the transformational CIO

By Oracle MD and Technology Leader for South Africa, Niral Patel 

The transformational Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the talk of the town - a captain of innovation, charting a course toward digital transformation for your business. With a view that stretches beyond the IT department, the transformational CIO is instigating a seismic shift in business that is seeing technology become a defining, differentiating strategic tool that can drive success.

Gartner's 2018 CIO Agenda survey shows that as digitalisation and innovation put more emphasis on information rather than technology, the role of the CIO is transforming from delivery executive to business executive, and from controlling costs to exploiting data to drive revenue. Yet, an estimated 80% of IT budgets still remain trapped in support functions – such as upgrades, maintenance and security patches – that keep the lights on, but don’t bring new revenue to the business.

So what are the key traits that define the transformational CIO? By keeping these five traits top of mind, any CIO has the potential to achieve that careful balance of keeping the lights on while acting as a transformational force for the business:

1. Stays aligned with the overall business direction

The transformational CIO understands that winning buy-in from the top is key to justifying and paying for new IT projects, and must look beyond the technology and delve deep into the overall direction of the business, in order to ensure their transformational ideas are closely in line with the aims of top executives.

Whether the business direction is winning a new customer segment, expanding into another market or reducing operational overheads, by aligning their IT strategy, the CIO will be best positioned to win buy-in and budget for projects. 

2. Avoids a siloed approach

The best digital transformation approaches cut across lines of business, delivering new capabilities to every executive leader and opening up new pathways to success for sales, marketing, finance and more. The transformational CIO must build strong relationships with each of these leaders, and work with them closely to understand how technology can help to overcome their unique challenges and achieve their specific goals.

Then, the CIO should go a step further; using their cross-silo expertise to recommend enterprise-wide solutions that will have a positive impact on multiple parts of the business.

3. Finds opportunities to transform

No CIO wants just to "keep the lights on", and as such must actively seek out opportunities to digitally  transform the business. These don’t have to be huge projects; in fact, the most effective transformations – and the projects most likely to win budget – often start small. For example, a CIO might test out a new development approach and rethink the development processes, as the first step in achieving a long-term goal of moving away from on-premise applications and toward using cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) alternatives.

Another relatively simple transformation is shifting a part, or all, of the development and testing environment to cloud, which can free up budget and introduce more agility into the development process.

4. Commits to recruiting and retaining great talent

With technology evolving at a rapid pace, having the right human resources is essential. Unfortunately, tech talent shortages continue to be a challenge, with a software skills survey by Wits University's Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) highlighting the ongoing reality of South Africa’s ICT skills gap. The good news is that because digital transformation touches all parts of the business, transformational CIOs have the unique opportunity to tap new sources of talent; for example, bringing on a candidate with a humanities degree and helping them learn tech skills on the job.

With a creative, committed approach to recruiting, retaining and upskilling talent, the CIO can build a team of left- and right-brained people who not only understand the technology, but see how it can be holistically applied to lower costs and drive business growth.

5. Acts as a visionary

Being a visionary is potentially the most important trait of the transformational CIO. He or she must approach their role with a strong vision for how IT can secure the future of the business; connect the dots across all aspects of the enterprise to demonstrate which technology will enable digital transformation, and how that transformation will put the business on a path to success.

Rather than waiting around to support other departments’ digital initiatives, the transformational CIO takes a proactive stance by continually looking to the future, and asking “what’s coming next, and what can my team and I do to lead the business through the waves of change?” 

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