Last month's article on the idea of Fear, Fact and Faith-based investment decision-making clearly stuck a chord with a lot of people. This isn't hugely surprising; as I wrote in the piece there are already quite a few organisations (Channel 4 being one such example) moving toward a more faith-based approach because it has helped create a more trusting relationship between business and technology, fostering a common understanding around what is needed to stay ahead in next wave of digital disruption.
There are two areas to address. One is where the CIOs of tomorrow are going to come from and the other is the leadership qualities that they will need to possess. The first is that you can no longer assume that to be a CIO your career was in technology. This is actually a hugely significant shift and it gives us a clear indication of what the business now expects from a CIO. It is no longer about being an IT decision-maker, it is about being a business decision-maker leveraging technology to drive the business forwards. This doesn't mean that a background in technology is a disadvantage but it does mean that it is no longer enough. It is also doesn't mean the CMO will own the IT budget in the future, far from it, marketing want to consume not implement the technology. The CIO needs to understand the customer experience journey and technology should be a crucial part of marketing and vice versa.
The second piece is about having the courage to make significant changes. Not just changes in technology but changes in working patterns, relationships and responsibility. In working patterns we are talking of significant disruption. The team can no longer think in terms of years, or even months. The team can no longer think in terms of big teams, clearly defined roles and structures. They cannot make decisions based on what is safe or known. Your role is to challenge them to think differently, to experiment and to not fear failure. The good people will relish this.
Talent is internal and external. Internal is about engagement within the organisation and not just within the technology team. Smart ideas and digital knowledge can come from almost anywhere. The best teams, when it comes to disruption and driving innovation, bring together people from across an organisation and harness interest and enthusiasm wherever it is found. Digital change often requires new IT talent to bring in leading technology practices. However, one common complaint among CIOs is that top talent is attracted to leading technology players and startups. That may be true, but it doesn't mean you can't build a strong talent value proposition to compete effectively. One global retailer, opened a rebranded Digital centre in Farringdon, encouraged a start-up culture, and partnered with start-ups to demonstrate its commitment and new attitude.
External talent is about partners. The fact is that your traditional technology partners are not motivated by or interested in teaching you something new. In fact you could argue the opposite as they hold on to bloated enterprise software licence or inflexible outsource agreements that stifle innovation. If you want new and different then you will need companies who do new and different and these are far more likely to be digital start-ups than established software providers. The same approach applies when it comes to strategy and advice. Big consultancies are usually tied to big software houses so think carefully about where your advice is coming from.
To be agile you need scalability. You cannot make rapid decisions and implement them if you don't have the capacity within your infrastructure to do that. A traditional IT infrastructure is an inhibitor. This means moving to a scalable cloud-based infrastructure, which is operationally lean and has the elasticity to enable you to react to changes in customer demand as well as the openness to enable new technologies, systems and processes to be integrated rapidly.
Cloud is also not just about infrastructure it can also be about applications and web services that are fit for purpose, so use it to full effect and make sure IT are combining these building blocks into innovative components that can be used and reused in web and mobile channels such as social sign on.
The fourth and final piece of the puzzle is data. And more particularly high quality, integrated data. Data needs to be a priority; no longer can you leave data in the too hard, too expensive bucket. Data is now a huge opportunity for you to lead the business to gain competitive advantage. Sophisticated technologies such as recommendation systems require high-quality data that are unpolluted, maintained by the business, and integrated into a single data set. One solution is to launch a joint business-IT programme that sizes the value at stake, identifies priority data, measures data quality, and agrees on remedial actions to reduce data pollution. This requires an effective integration between business and IT. The business needs to be clear on what it wants the data to do and the IT team to show what is possible. Technology moves at such a pace that it is difficult for any business to stay on top of the possible. This is again where the talent issue comes into play. You need people who can interpret, predict and innovate with data combined with environments that allow data sets and technologies to be integrated, tested and used in experiments by the business at pace.
None of this is rocket science, you just need to start! There is very little that doesn't come down to the right combination of leadership, talent, infrastructure and information. Understanding that though is one thing. Getting the combination of culture, change and managing the legacy is quite another.