Over the last few weeks I have been working with the team here at CIO to identify those among us who deserve the most recognition for their success over the last year or so. As always it has been an interesting and dare I say enlightening experience.

On the one hand I am incredibly impressed by some of the things that have been achieved. There is no shortage of innovation, inspiration and determination to help the organisations they work for meet the business challenges that they face. Innovation in terms of the methodologies, technologies and ways of working with business units  that are being adopted; inspiration in terms of ideas, openness to change and new ways of thinking; determination in the desire to drive transformation, change and challenge the status quo.

On the flip side however there is also a frankly scary amount of ostrich like behaviour. There are still too many in the profession whose fear of change appears to be the dominating factor in their decision-making. What I find even more incredible is that this is in the face of a growing mountain of evidence that suggests innovative change is simply not an option - not for the CIO and not for the business.  

Now at this point you are probably expecting me to wheel out the predictions from Gartner about CMOs having more tech spending power than CIOs blah blah blah. Whether they will or not is in fact in many ways irrelevant. The point is not the title of person but the areas of responsibility, whoever owns the change agenda will ultimately decide how much power and influence they wield.

Fundamentally it's all about digital - who owns it, how they drive the disruption and what level of influence they have with the board.

While doing some research for another project I came across a stat from Gartner that suggests that by 2015 25% of companies will have a Chief Digital Officer in place. I agree with fellow columnist Ade McCormack’s view that it is very early days for the CDO, although it is gaining traction in the US, the role is not about technology, it is about creating digital organisations that have user centric operating models that deliver at start up pace and are adaptable.  This demonstrates the understanding, across organisations of all types and sizes, that digital platforms, tools and the ways of working they enable have now become a critical consideration. Digital has reached board level.

So the question is who is going to take that CDO role? The danger for the CIO is that it is someone other than them because as soon as digital moves out of their domain (if indeed it is currently in it) they will effectively become a glorified facilities manager. You can pretty much guarantee that anything interesting will come under the digital remit. The IT department will be looking after an ever decreasing portfolio of ‘keeping the lights on’ tech (ever decreasing because most of this is being shipped out to the cloud) and watching his influence diminish by the day.

The thing about digital is that it’s not just about digital. It now covers the customer, new product or service design, organisational values and practices and of course mobile, social, collaborative tools and even cloud. Anything that leverages the internet as a channel in any way is now seen as digital. Digital is the platform for delivering content, engaging and transacting with customers, for connecting people and for leveraging data in pretty much any shape and form.

And the benefits of becoming a digital champion aren’t just about influence. Within most businesses IT is the biggest single expense on the balance sheet. So from a business perspective there is an association of IT with cost that there isn’t (yet) with digital.

Digital investments are seen as game changers, business drivers, investments with the potential to drive competitive advantage whether it’s through better productivity, improved customer experiences or product innovation. According to research from MIT businesses that demonstrate excellence in the ‘postdigital environment’ (across mobile, social, analytics, cloud and cyber) can expect to be 26% more profitable and have revenues 10% higher than their competitors.

It’s not surprising that being aligned with or driving the digital revolution is a must for any CIO and indeed for anyone seeking the CDO position in the future.

This leads to be final point which is actually about the title itself. Over the last few years the title CIO has become associated with the IT rather than information.

Interestingly a quick straw poll among some friends of mine who have senior business roles within fairly sizeable companies revealed that a worrying number of them thought that CIO stood for Chief IT Officer. It’s not surprising as all too often that is what it has become. Indeed at the recent CIO 100 event the top two CIOs, Stephen Kneebone (Nissan) and Phil Jordan (Telefonica) both talked about the I in their job title as leading innovation, insight and improvement. The rise of digital gives CIOs the opportunity to re-establish their ownership of information and access and position themselves as the digital innovation leaders and catalysts to drive the value that it can deliver across the board.