The 2016 CIO 100 sees digital programmes taking centre stage like never before. So much so in fact that at least one of this year's top ten has actually changed their title from CIO to CDO. The CIO 100 has always been about celebrating the more progressive among those currently inhabiting the role, but from the entries that we reviewed, this year there were very few that didn't have digital front and centre. Part of this might simply be down to the fact that many understood what the CIO 100 panel were looking for, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
For most CIOs these days frankly there is no longer a choice. Embedding digital - both in terms of culture and tools - has become a priority for businesses across the board. For most B2C enterprises this emphasis has been there for a while but one of the major shifts I have seen this year is the sudden uptick in the numbers of B2B companies that are making digital a priority. Engineering firm Atkins is a classic example and this year its CDO (and former CIO), Richard Cross, took the number two spot in the CIO 100.
Atkins has in fact been ahead of the curve when it comes to B2B adoption of digital because Richard has been putting digital at the heart of his strategy since he joined the company in February 2014. What seems to have shifted in the last 12 months is that the business has become aligned to his vision and it's that shift in B2B, the move from digital as a non-essential nice-to-have to a critical piece of the strategy for the business moving forward, that characterises the last year for me.
What I find especially telling is the fact that this time last year Richard Cross took the decision to change his title from CIO to CDO but he sees this as natural progression of his role rather than something totally new. As Richard himself states in his CIO 100 entry: "Rather than seeing myself with two roles, I very much see CDO as the evolution of the CIO role. As CDO, I have developed, and own the implementation of, the digital strategy for the whole organisation. Digital will transform our industry. Everything Atkins does, and the services we provide to clients, will change. This creates opportunities for us to shape new offerings, exploit the potential of Big Data, and reengineer how we work internally."
For me this decision not only demonstrates the importance of digital for him but also for the business. The fact that Richard continues to hold the role of CIO as well is an important clue as to how the business perceives him and his role. Clearly the two roles are seen as symbiotic and intertwined enough for it to make sense for them to be held by the same person. When it comes to technology therefore, the priority is as much on digital technology and services that will take the company forward as it is on the more traditional IT infrastructure. Of course digital isn't just about the new it is also about doing existing things better. By re-architecting and upskilling the team and investing in new tools he was able to make the existing infrastructure more agile and effective. After all no one is going to buy into a digital vision if the email keeps going down!
What is also notable about Richard's statement is that the focus here is firmly on the customer. For the B2B CIO, as with his or her B2C counterpart, the focus in no longer inward but out to the wider ecosystem. Digital services can make a huge difference internally but really it's what they can deliver for the customer and how this impacts the products and services that a company delivers that are really important. Richard's team is exploring a new set of digital products and services - embracing new tools and opportunities such as drones, smart city technology and intelligent mobility - things that will keep Atkins ahead in an engineering industry already being disrupted. He is also balancing partnerships with big IT vendors with smaller more innovative partners like Fluxx - an organisation set up by a former employee and for whom I act as an advisor - that can help them to keep innovating and to finds way to make this innovation pay both for them and their customers.
The most important thing from an internal perspective is that there is a change in the culture and that employees change the way they think and the way they behave to allow digital services to be most effective. Digital tools are part of this - being able to collaborate and share information and ideas, to share data and understand behaviours - but is also about changing the thinking and the processes to support innovation and agility.
Of course Richard is not the only B2B CIO finding support in the business for a more digitally focused strategy but, with the exception of Mike Young at Dentsu Aegis, he is the only one to make the top 20. This is testament to the fact that the awakening within B2B to the power of digital is still a relatively recent thing. I predict that next year we will see more of them as their digital programmes mature and start to have a real impact on their organisations. In fact I will stick my neck out and say that next year I would expect CIOs from B2B organisations to make up at least 25% of the top 20 spots. I think we are also likely to find that a good percentage of them are, like Richard Cross, operating across dual roles. And if you are one of those blazing a trail in the B2B space then make sure you are in contact with CIO UK for the 2017 CIO 100 - I know you are out there.