CIOs have been challenged to demand more from their CEOs, build digital platform businesses, lead transformation and innovation programmes, and use emerging digital technologies to disrupt and reimagine rather than optimise current business processes by IT analyst, research and advisory firm Gartner.

While vice president and Gartner Fellow Dave Aron said that CIOs - particularly in the EMEA region - were leading digital transformation and innovation efforts and staving of the threat of Chief Digital Officers treading on their toes, Aron warned that CIOs might not be being brave enough, and analyst peer Mark Raskino suggested CIOs should request and expect CEO involvement to drive the digital agenda.

Aron's team of researchers found that 43% of EMEA CIOs said that they were were leading digital transformation, and 33% responded they were leading innovation programmes at their organisations, while the growth of the CDO role had stalled with the majority of CIOs fighting back to take on digital leadership and only 30% performing a role described by Aron as "functional IT leadership".

CIO as the CEO's new best friend?

Indeed, Raskino's CEO research found that 46% of CEOs had given "new scope and power" to their CIO with a further 32% of chief executives looking to do so in 2016. Raskino also asked CEOs who they expected to lead digital, with 42% of respondents placing the CIO in the top three - more than any other role.

"The responses were widespread but the CIO was number one," Raskino said. Thus digital leadership is a team sport for everyone in the C-suite with the CIO playing the most crucial role, he said.

Raskino went on to recommend that CIOs request and expect CEO involvement in their day-to-day duties. A few years ago CIOs couldn't get CEOs to help sort out large 'political' technology management issues, but Raskino said that the business outlook had shifted enough that it was now time for CIOs to ask again.

Getting disruptive

However, Aron questioned whether CIOs who said they were overseeing transformation and the digital impacts on their business were being bold enough. The study found that CIOs are focusing on increased revenue from better operations and more business conducted through digital channels.

Aron asked: "Are CIOs and companies being courageous enough in their digital thinking? Are they really crossing industry boundaries and creating new markets, or are they limiting their digital vision? At the moment CIOs are still optimising and not disrupting."

One of the suggestions from Aron was for the CIO to reinvent themselves as a "digital venture capitalist" with the research acknowledging that agility to tackle new threats and digital risks was a key concern for CIOs and their organisations.

CEOs are perhaps more bullish and ambitious than their cautious CIOs, Aron said, wanting to put 'less lipstick on the pig' when it came to how they see the true capabilities of digital.

Business as a Platform

Gartner's latest theme, following on from last year's focus on so-called Bimodal IT, was for organisations of all sizes to become platform businesses.

"As digital deepens, it's clear that hardcoded business and operating models won't suffice," Aron said. "What's changed is that there's a shift to platform thinking. Business executives need to look at their business as a hierarchy of processes, in terms of their business models, delivery mechanisms, talent and leadership. Platform concepts need to penetrate all aspects of a  business.

"Even if your business isn't directly susceptible to platform thinking now, platform thinking will make your business successful."

What is Bimodal IT?

Aron also explained to CIO UK that many interpretations of Bimodal IT, Gartner's much quoted and occasionally ridiculed term for the practice of managing two separate modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility - was being largely misunderstood by the technology industry and commentators.

Gartner had not coined the term to advocate having a two-speed organisation, Aron said, with its combination of old-style and modern IT practices, with two separate organisations focusing on innovation and keeping the lights on respectively. Instead, it was about interdisciplinary teams offering different skills.

On the one hand are the old-style IT 'Samurais' - operating within parameters and bound by the rules of the Bushido philosophy, in Aron's analogy. On the other hand are the innovation ninjas; newer, more agile and not bound by a strict code. As such the theory is not about a slow 'Mode 1' and a fast 'Mode 2' capability.

"Bimodal IT is not two-speed," Aron said. "It's about Samurais and ninjas. You don't want an army of ninjas because it would be too chaotic, and you don't want your innovation done by Samurais because it would be too boring.

"The end game is to recognise who your Samurais are and who are your ninjas and have them working together."