By blending traditional products with the digital world, businesses are facing an opportunity to take advantage of a range of new possibilities or the threat of being incinerated by competitors or new entrants that are better at exploiting the opportunities.

Who do businesses turn to for digital leadership?
A lot of CEO’s and board members have by now realised that digitalisation is not about moving everything online. This was for example made evident in the recent “Digital Transformation Report 2017” by Microsoft, QVARTZ and BOX which analyses how the largest Danish enterprises are addressing the digital transformation. The transformation domains that are presented in the report relate to customers, products, operations and employees and as such it is clear that we are addressing essential problems in the business strategy space. This view is further supported in Gartner’s yearly CEO survey where 75% of CEO’s now acknowledge that there is a digital strategic change to be led and this is about innovations in the products they make or serve – not just how they market and sell them. The urgency to innovate is increasing compared with previous years, and the KPI’s that CEO’s put in place to determine if they are successful relate to growth and profits.

CEO’s might take the digital leadership on themselves!

Some CEO’s are now looking to educate themselves in the relevant technology spaces as they are taking on the digital leadership themselves, but quite often the CEO will look to the CIO for partnership or for delegation of the digital leadership, but many are discouraged because CIO’s are perceived as IT partner, service provider or even just a cost centre – not enough CIO’s are seen as business changers. However, for a lot of CIO’s, there is an opportunity, right now, to get onto the stage and make a lasting impact. To cease this opportunity it is necessary to realise that what made many CIO’s succeed in the past will not suffice to bring them on to the digitalisation scene. What can be seen from Table 1 is that the success criteria for the digitalisation leader differ significantly from that of a more traditional CIO, but if CIO’s have been good at strengthening the business functions (level 2 in the table), they may have built a good industry and business understanding as well as good relationships with other leaders and therefore has a good foundation to build on when moving into the digitalisation leader role.

Practical steps for the CIO – here’s how.

For any CIO who wants to take the step up from “business functions enabler” to become the digital leader of choice, I would recommend taking a fresh look at Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change. It can be very useful for identifying the steps that need to be taken to get started with the required business strategy changes. Kotter’s model will help you create an appropriate climate for change in the organisation. As input, you must use your knowledge of what is happening in the technology domains, combine it with your business and industry knowledge and blend in input from your relationships to identify innovation initiatives that will give your organisation competitive edge. Here are some of the things a CIO needs to be good at to transition successfully into the role as the digital leader:

  • Establish urgency – Have enough clout to get the ear of the management team and tell a convincing story
  • Build a coalition – It is not possible to drive massive change alone
  • Know it – Understand the potential and constraints of technology innovations and how it can apply to the organisation’s competitive business performance and growth.
  • You need these “Do it” skills – Entrepreneurship, open-mindedness, enthusiasm and drive
  • Business savvy – Approach to own position to drive the business to excel
  • Problem-solvers, with creative skills and high emotional intelligence

Every CIO will be strong in some of the above areas and less strong in others but with this article, I hope to have given you direction to assess your own situation as well as concrete suggestions on how to progress into the “Leader of digitalisation” role.

This article originally appeared at

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