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CIOs need to champion digital change as IT leadership roles evolve

Gartner CIO survey shows digital business is changing mindsets and culture at organisations that are successful in transformation

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The CIO role is in transition and successful IT leaders will grab the opportunity to inspire and lead digital initiatives across the organisation, according to Gartner’s annual CIO survey.

The study, which draws on the opinions of more than 3,000 global CIOs, including more than 1,000 European IT leaders, found 82% of European technology chiefs believe digital business has led to a greater capacity for change and a more open mindset in their IT organisations.

Andy Rowsell-Jones, vice-president and analyst at Gartner, told delegates at the firm’s annual CIO Symposium in Barcelona that the constant flux in business demands means IT leaders must continue to hone their craft and ask themselves critical questions about their capabilities and ambitions.

“The CIO role is in transition – and it’s happening much more quickly with the scaling of digital transformation,” he said.

“Look in the mirror and think about whether you’re the person to lead your organisation – now is the time to fire yourself as a delivery executive and to hire yourself as an IT business executive.”

Gartner found European CIOs have already increased the amount of time they spend on business leadership – up from 30% three years ago to 41% today. Gartner suggested this rise demonstrates that, as Digital transformation accelerates, the role of the CIO continues to morph. 

“You have to give your board of directors a good story about business disruption and Cyber security,” said Rowsell-Jones. “We’re only really just getting going when it comes to digital transformation – when it comes to scaling, there’s a long way to go.”

Show the power of disruption

The idea of using pilot initiatives to help demonstrate the potential power of disruption is picked up by the research. Over half (58%) of European CIOs are running experimental digital business programmes. 

Richard Corbridge, CIO at the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland, said his organisation has focused on experimentation and is now moving some of these innovations to scale. An initial pilot project around the creation of patient portals and genomic sequencing for people with epilepsy was tested on 10,000 patients.

“Look in the mirror and think about whether you’re the person to lead your organisation – now is the time to fire yourself as a delivery executive and to hire yourself as an IT business executive”
Andy Rowsell-Jones, Gartner

“Rolling out to the next 40,000 people is challenging,” said Corbridge, who will soon move into a new role as CIO at Leeds Teaching Hospitals.

“The next cohort of patients wants to be assured about how their data is being used and how it helps with their care. Security around information can also be a blocker to innovation at speed. Achieving scale can be a difficult thing to do.”

However, these potential barriers around roll-out must be overcome if the promises of digital transformation are to be realised.

“IT has said no to too many requests for a decade,” said Corbridge. “We’ve been successful by creating an ecosystem of 300 organisations that say yes, because they can work in partnership with our IT team to deliver great results.”

CIOs need strong leadership skills

Jane Corolan, currently director of health business services at HSE, said she had also seen at first-hand the necessity for technology chiefs to take a tight grip on business IT projects. 

“Without a leader, digital transformation won’t happen,” said Corolan. “You get pilot projects running because there’s a particular person in the business that’s interested. But trying to move that initiative to a bigger field is difficult without a leader.”

Corolan said the demand for strong leadership means CIOs play a crucial role. She is set to move to the CIO role at HSE soon and is keen to make strong, cross-organisation connections for the benefit of the business.

“My key skill is bringing good leadership skills to the issue,” said Corolan. “The most important part of any job is how to influence the people you’re going to work with.”

“Without a leader, digital transformation won’t happen”
Jane Corolan, HSE

It is a theme that resonates with Anna Eriksson, IT director at Lantmateriet, the Swedish land registration authority. Eriksson, who has led IT at the organisation for more than six years, warned fellow CIOs about potential cultural concerns.

“There’s often a brick wall between the rest of the business and the technology department. People are afraid of change. We embraced transformation by starting at home and looking at how we could change the processes of our IT department,” she said. 

“It’s my job to inspire the business in how it uses digital solutions in new ways. Enterprise change is the responsibility of each and every manager in the organisation. What I can contribute is to show the possibilities of transformation from a digital and technological point of view.”

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