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Managing digital change: The CIO challenge for 2019

As technology changes have an increasing impact on organisations, 2019 is the year when CIOs must adapt their teams to better manage digital disruption and business innovation

The year of 2018 was a transitional one for how CIOs deal with technology advances, and this will continue in the next 12 months. Leaders can only address so much change within their organisations, and only handle so much of the resulting disruption, according to IT management experts.

As organisations adapt and become more operationally complex, technology is also reflecting the complexity of the businesses it is attempting to serve, which creates a challenge for IT decision makers, says Spencer Izard, researcher and advisor at the Leading Edge Forum.

“Over the past year, I’ve continued to witness CIOs and C-suite peers become weary and punch drunk in their attempts to both react to the continued evolution of technology and adapt to the changing demands of their organisation on the IT function,” he says.

Some CIOs have focused on addressing those demands in an “astute” manner in 2018, Izard argues, by solidifying the foundation of their digital strategy through service management, data analytics and cyber security, while handling the businesses' cries for bleeding-edge innovation.

“While there is an ever-growing hype around technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), none have got to a commodity level of acceptance yet by defining industry essential use cases to drive unquestioned broad adoption,” says Izard.

When it comes to technologies CIOs should keep an eye on in 2019, Izard considers the evolution of blockchain, AI and ML will see them continue to be rolled into existing software products and service offerings from the large suppliers, rather than being distinct products used in conjunction with established technologies.

“For CIOs the true value of these technologies is the collective intelligence that can be derived from them when they are used in combination with existing service management, data analytics and cyber security technologies,” says Izard.

The themes that dominate the thoughts of leading CIOs he has spoken with over the last 12 months are around providing low-friction experiences to clients, consumers or citizens; shortening the value chain of business operating models; while transforming the collection and creation of data into business intelligence for the entire organisation.

Facing challenges

Looking back at conversations Izard has had with IT leaders in 2018, the main difficulties senior tech executives have faced to keep up with technology advances are related to a short-termism in delivery, combined with a “this is how we have always operated” mindset.

This way of thinking, says the researcher, has caught the leadership of many organisations off-guard since the onset of digital.

“CIOs are typically aware of their organisation’s ever-growing technology complexity and inefficiency but had little impetus to champion changing well established IT and business operating models prior to digital,” says Izard.

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The questions he has been asked most by CIOs in 2018 are mainly around how to prepare for what comes after digital, or how to keep evolving without the pain they are having in adapting to digital.

“None of the CIOs who have asked me this or an equivalent question are looking for some fortune teller – rather, they have realised that their organisations don’t have the cultural and operational resiliency to comfortably absorb the all-encompassing disruptive impact of reacting to another mega-trend akin to digital,” he says.

Izard advises leaders to gain that resilience by divesting from owning and leading the operational component of the IT function, because it delivers commodity tech that any modern organisation needs. The way to go, he says, is to pivot into an intelligence function leveraging technology to improve operating practices.

“CIOs should be leading a function that provides technology services to assess and create new operating models and advocate the change required to evolve, or eliminate, existing operating models no longer fit-for-purpose in a 21st century organisation,” he says.

"This requires CIOs to pivot the classic IT function away from its operations comfort zone into an internal intelligence function.”

Remaining relevant

Izard maintains that the CIO role should never have been allowed to become predominantly inward-focused on IT operations, but rather improving the operating mechanisms of how an organisation behaves through a collective of technologies.

The key to achieving that goal, he says, is converting data created and consumed into actionable intelligence in support of delivering products and services to clients, consumers or citizens.

“This means data will remain the lifeblood of organisations to drive value, provide visibility into organisational inefficiency and optimisations, as well as a means to support reactions to changing industry dynamics,” says Izard.

“In 2019, a core focus for CIOs should be the collective combination of trending technologies and established technologies to provide a resilient, and forward-looking operating pattern to leverage data as intelligence to address the demands exerted on organisations.”

Izard says that for CIOs to remain relevant through the impact of continued digital change, then rather than simply considering the yearly impact of trending technologies on how IT functions operate, their focus should be on "asking ourselves whether the established concept of an IT function is a once useful but outdated model, akin to vestigial organs in the human body."

“This could be brushed off as an abstract concept and wistful thinking, but CIOs maintain relevance in 2019 by finally addressing the fundamental disconnect between the title chief information officer and what the CIO role currently is.”

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