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CIOs have an unprecedented opportunity to position themselves as transformational leaders in their organisation. They are the custodians of the data on which the digital transformation of their business will be based. They have an almost unique oversight of the whole organisation – its strengths and weaknesses, its opportunities and challenges, where synergies are possible and where technology enables wholly new or adjacent markets to open up.

Most important, they are up for the challenge, according to a major survey of European CIOs conducted by Cognizant, a global leader in business and technology services.

The results highlighted the determination of CIOs to be digital strategists and transformational leaders, their enthusiasm for the task but also hinted at some potential pitfalls on the way that have to be overcome.

The European CIOs surveyed are in bullish mood; with two-thirds of respondents (66%) saying that digital success for their organisation is predicated on their playing a key role. In part this is probably a reflection of the enthusiasm for digital transformation across the C-Suite.

CEOs are increasingly relying on the CIO to deliver their organisation’s digital priorities. In part it is CIOs basic passion for the job in hand, nevertheless, with less than one-third of respondents (29%), currently involved with leading digital transformation at their organisation, according to the survey, eagerness isn’t enough. Business technology leaders need strategy also.

In an increasingly tech savvy business community, others, possibly the CEO themselves, or the Chief Marketing Officer, could lead the way, leaving the CIO and their team with a secondary role. Cognizant Business Consulting lead Burkhard Blechschmidt warns that, “CIO should beware of becoming the ‘Chief Problem Fixing Officer’ addressing the problems of the past, related to legacy business decisions, like integration and harmonization. New tech developments in areas like Blockchain, IoT, Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation can have substantial impact on the core of a companies’ business and operating model; it is the professional responsibility of a CIO to address these tech challenges working with leaders inside and, much more so than before, outside of the company, to open-innovate new partnerships and platforms”

To do this, CIOs need to build more trust and closer collaboration with their executive colleagues and the wider ecosystem their organisation inhabits. They need to seize the initiative and start acting as digital leaders, explaining the benefits of digital transformation and the new forms of value it can enable and if possible scoring some quick wins, even if they don’t yet have a formal remit for leading digital. They need to understand and rethink what constitutes the core capabilities of the teams they lead, to focus on next-generation, rather than legacy, technologies and adjust their investment priorities accordingly.

Achieving this means understanding  what Cognizant calls new polymath skills and mindsets needed to drive through change and recruit accordingly. In this way CIOs can develop multi-disciplinary teams around key business-digital themes. (CIOs looking to test and compare their ideas and progress against their peers can find a useful benchmarking tool here

For Cognizant’s Burkhard Blechschmidt, CIOs need to create the space for serious strategic thought and planning – and he recommends the “5 Ps” model developed by management expert Henry Mintzberg. The model deepens planning activity (planning being the first “P”) by adding four components — perspective, position, ploy and pattern — to turn strategy formulation into a more agile discovery process of having a strategic dialogue with key internal and external stakeholders. (For more on this methodology see

CIOs that are able to make these fundamental mind shift changes and really plan strategically will be well positioned to serve as the primary channel through which digital products and services are delivered, according to a major analysis, Being Digital: How and Why CIOs in Europe Are Reinventing Themselves for a New Age, available from Cognizant’s Complete Digital CIO site (

Steps to success

CIOs want to lead the digital transformation of their organisations, and they are well placed to succeed, if they adopt the following key steps, that emerge from Cognizant research.

  • Transform your approach to investment prioritization: enable business agility
  • Take a new approach to digital strategy and planning: define a compass rather than a long term plan
  • Use next-gen IT to protect against competitive attacks by digital competitors: Become an end-to-end “Tech Company”
  • Become directly engaged and embedded in key digital initiatives: co-innovate with leaders across the entire company ecosystem
  • Make IT a digital business so it serves as the primary channel through which digital products and services are realized

Getting it right is essential and challenging, but the rewards for business technology leaders and the organisations they are helping lead can be enormous.

For a full discussion see: Being Digital: How and Why CIOs in Europe Are Reinventing Themselves for a New Age, available from Cognizant’s Complete Digital CIO site (

in association with Cognizant