Feature Story

The CIO’s New Role: Prevent Extinction

In order to survive, the CIO must embrace digital transformation and bring value to the C-suite.

It comes down to survival of the fittest.

Chief information officers (CIOs) can continue with business as usual. However, if that’s what they choose to do, it will bring a slow death to their organizations.

The alternative? They become C-suite heroes. They protect their species by re-shaping how business gets done in the digital era.

What happens when CIOs don’t choose the right path? A recent report called The Digital Vortex, by the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, found that about four of today’s top 10 incumbents (by market share) in 12 industries will be extinct due to digital disruption in the next five years.

To counter this trend, CIOs must be on the frontline of innovation. This ensures that their companies are among those driving disruption, not being disrupted.

So is it enough for IT to give everyone a secure laptop and a cell phone? And see that the network is running smoothly?

Not according to Gus Shahin, CIO and senior vice president at Flextronics International Ltd. In a recent podcast for Connected Futures, he shared how back in the day, “CIOs didn’t really get involved in the business. I speak to a lot of CIOs on a regular basis. That’s changing very quickly.”

Digital fuels this shift. Forward-thinking CIOs can’t turn away from transformation. It’s critical for them to step up and be strategic advisors to the C-suite. This is especially important in areas such as data analytics, security, and innovation.

“We inextricably link our [IT] strategy to our business strategy,” said Ted Colbert, CIO, Boeing Co., in another Connected Futurespodcast.

Digital transformation must be front and center.  That means using technology to build efficiency into the supply chain, helping to better manage the company’s money, or enabling innovation.

The role of the CIO must be transformed. Being an influential business partner across functions demands new skills. Consultative skills. Sales skills. Let’s not forget, a strong understanding of business.

“One of the fascinating things about digital is it generally requires cross-functional collaboration in ways that are new and more substantive than in the past,” said Shahin.

It’s this collaboration that helps CIOs understand business challenges and introduce the right technology to resolve them.

Flextronics provides a great example of how IT drives greater transparency and connectivity across all corners of an organization. The company created Flex Pulse, a real-time collaboration system that manages its supply chains across 100 factories in 40 countries.

With easy-to-use touch screens, Flextronics employees have a real-time view into their global supply chain.

They get alerts about mechanical, geopolitical, weather, or other threats that could potentially disrupt operations or impact customers.

As a best practice, savvy CIOs are moving away from a siloed approach to technology. “We’re taking the top objectives of the company and making sure we have an integrated, aligned roadmap,” said Colbert. This helps companies like Boeing be more agile in a highly competitive environment.

And what about long-cycle IT projects? According to Colbert, those days are over, too. Today, agility and lighting-fast cycle times rule.

“My business partners don’t have patience for months and months and months of requirements gathering and then months and months and months of analysis.”

By the time this process is followed through to its end, he said it’s too late. “The business challenge has moved on.”

Colbert and Shahin agree digital touches everything. That means data is king. How it’s analyzed and how it’s leveraged to unlock new value for organizations is critical. This is another reason, according to Colbert, why an integrated technology approach is critical.

Security is also top of mind in the digital era. “It’s one of my top priorities and the board’s top priority,” explained Shahin. He continued by saying it’s not enough to react to a breach. “There’s no doubt in my mind that every company is going to get breached at some point in time. You need a disaster recovery plan in place.”

That includes platform-based, threat-centric security strategies that mitigate the damage before, during, and after an attack.

Above all, CIOs need to take a business-first approach, Shahin stressed.

“We’ve been able to knock down a lot of walls and get things moving,” he said. “We’re 90 percent execution and 10 percent strategy. It’s a culture that’s driven from the top down, and it’s helped us make changes very quickly and efficiently.”

Julie Hart is a writer based in the Northwest specializing in technology and business.