5 leadership tips for CIOs to evolve their digital strategy

As digital transformation proliferates, CIOs must become more strategic about the path forward. Consider these guideposts to drive innovation and growth
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The modern CIO role has morphed into one that is equal parts technologist, business strategist, and transformational change agent. IDC predicts that by 2023, 60 percent of CIOs will be measured primarily by their ability to co-create new business models and outcomes through extensive enterprise and ecosystem-wide collaboration.

As enterprises accelerate digitalization, CIOs must expand and evolve their responsibilities to increase contributions as business executives and leaders of IT. However, some CIOs aren’t sure where to start, hesitating to take a deeper, more strategic role among their C-suite counterparts.

5 steps to evolve your IT strategy

As digital technologies take over virtually every aspect of business, CIOs must evolve into a more strategic position that aligns the C-suite on digital and company strategy, facilitates change across the enterprise, and uses emerging and proven technologies to innovate and drive agility.

1. Build a baseline of digital knowledge

Creating strong alignment among chief executives on digital strategy first requires a shared understanding – at least at the basic level – of key business data and analytics. Instilling a commonly held vision among chief executives regarding what the data means within their unique business context and where that data positions the business for the future will help CIOs create a knowledge foundation for their colleagues.

[Also read: Digital transformation: 5 tips to help your team thrive amidst change.]

It doesn’t matter how much information a CIO serves to the C-suite; if they’re unable to put it into context and help others make sense of the data, their digital strategy can’t evolve.

2. Elevate executive understanding

When a CIO successfully lays the digital groundwork with his or her colleagues, it’s time for the real fun to begin.

Greater digital transformation happens when all hands are on deck and when every head is in sync. That’s much easier to accomplish when the decision-makers not only understand what the company’s data means and why it’s important but are proactively asking, “Where should our digital strategy focus next?” This type of cross-department leadership will help CIOs generate more interest and support from those around them. CIOs must embrace being educators.

3. Forgo the conventional

The traditional way of thinking about the CIO is long gone. A role that was once treated as a cost center and confined to cloud, networks, data centers, and device management is now responsible for driving companies forward in the Industry 4.0 era.

The modern CIO isn’t just wearing more hats; they are directing business innovation on a much grander scale and engaged in investment planning and prioritization. Given the heavy investments in technology and the impacts on company strategy, CIOs must partner with the CFO and provide leadership in investment planning and prioritization.

CIOs should also seek business knowledge in areas outside of their comfort zone and normal job description. Savvy CIOs know that staying competitive requires new skills and a greater understanding of a broad array of emerging technology.

Savvy CIOs know that staying competitive requires new skills and a greater understanding of a broad array of emerging technology.

This doesn’t just happen by chance. Thinking outside of normal business applications helps professionals go where no one else has and seek solutions that have yet to be applied. Are innovations happening in other industries that could translate well? Are there areas of the business that haven’t seen innovation in a while (even if it’s historically thought of as a “digitally immature” department)?

Only by pushing boundaries will the CIO discover new ways to apply digital transformation (DX) to create new products and services and better connect with customers.

4. Lead by example

By now, every organization is a technology and software organization (or soon will be). The challenge for CIOs is to keep day-to-day operations (networks, data centers, and devices) running while also innovating in a way that achieves revenue and growth targets.

A transformational CIO will show other chief executives and their teams how to best achieve strategic initiatives. The CIO will need to lead the way in collaboration on DX strategies, understanding that digital transformation is always a team effort.

Further, the CIO will lead change for the organization by driving agile and flexible practices and lead the way in pioneering technologies and smarter solutions, setting the example for others.

5. Be an open book

While every organization needs to be data-driven – and many companies are data-rich – they often lack insights from that data. Smart CIOs understand the benefit of sharing current practices and applications with customers and stakeholders proactively.

Being an open book and a collaborator – sharing insights, answering tough questions, and opening the data up for scrutiny – will build trust and eliminate confusion among key stakeholders. Moreover, establishing trust helps CIOs build a culture in which everyone in the C-suite is committed to elevating and strengthening the digital strategy.

To elevate their digital strategy, CIOs must first recognize that their role is ever-shifting. With that change, however, comes greater opportunity for professional growth and a more prominent seat at the proverbial table. To lead a great digital movement, CIOs should embrace their strategic position and leverage it to facilitate enterprise-wide change.

[Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]

Chris Nardecchia is SVP & Chief Information and Digital Officer at Rockwell Automation.