Today’s world of business is not just changing—it’s transforming. The difference is that change is doing something in an incrementally different way, while transformation is doing something so drastically different that it becomes a qualitative shift. The fact that we began watching movies on VHS tapes that we’d have to rewind, then moved to DVDs that we didn’t have to rewind, followed by Blu-ray discs for enhanced quality—that’s a change. But going from discs of any kind to a multitude of streaming services that we can watch both on our smart TVs and our mobile devices, bringing not only our movie collections but television and Internet videos with us wherever we go? That’s a transformation.
As we all know, technology made this transformation possible. I’ve spoken to CIOs who are not only using software as a service (SaaS), but who are implementing hardware as a service, connectivity as a service, collaboration as a service, and security as a service. The real excitement was around implementing everything as a service (XaaS). Clearly, IT is quickly becoming an integrated collection of intelligent services that are on demand, on the move, and on any device.
The visual, social, virtual, and mobile transformations are creating a new golden era of technology-enabled innovation, and the CIO needs to be leading the charge.
So what has enabled the business environment to go from merely changing to transforming? It has to do with the three change accelerators I often reference in my writing: advances in computing power, bandwidth, and storage. I have tracked their exponential trajectory for years, and they have entered a new phase that has transformed every business process.
Based on technology-enabled Hard Trends that are already in place, how we sell, market, communicate, collaborate, innovate, train, and educate will continue to transform. If you don’t anticipate the disruption that comes with this transformation, someone else will. And with all the business processes technology is transforming, nothing is transforming more than the role of the CIO.
The New Role of the CIO
The CIO’s role was traditionally in managing information, IT systems, and cost management, but it has now transformed to be one of creating new competitive advantage, new products, and new services. The CEO was the innovator, but many of today’s CEOs and their C-suite counterparts are unaware of what is technologically possible now or in the future. However, the CIO does have interest, access, and the understanding of that type of information and knowledge, which is why the CIO position needs to transform into the Chief Innovation Officer.
Of course, not all CIOs will embrace their new role. As our environment transforms, human nature is to stagnate, as we are drawn to comfort. Many will be far too busy doing what they have always done, and many will spend a lot of time protecting and defending the status quo solely because they’re familiar with it. We know how it works and we have an investment in it that has made a lot of money for us and gotten us to where we are today. Therefore, the mindset is that we have to protect and defend it any way we can.
An additional burden the CIO has is the nature of their work itself. They have to maintain the existing system to make sure it’s working in order to keep the organization running smoothly during the transforming period. But if all you’re doing is maintaining what’s already there, then you hold a legacy role and your relevance is decreasing every day. So while you do have to maintain your current and past systems, you also have to spend some time truly innovating, as innovation is increasingly technology-driven and the CIO is in a perfect position to be the driver of it.
Ultimately, it’s about increasing your professional and personal relevance, paying close attention to the Hard Trends transforming your industry and becoming more anticipatory as to what digital disruptions are heading your way, and causing disruption before someone else disrupts you and your organization. For example, the old way was about technology centricity; the new way is about technology-empowered business strategies. The old way was information management; the new way is information intelligence. The old way was IT systems management; the new way is platforms that enable new value chains. The old way was cost management; the new way is business transformation and rapid growth.
The ability to innovate has never been easier and has never happened faster. In today’s transformational business landscape, you must anticipate disruption and change, turning it into opportunity and advantage. If you don’t change the focus of your CIO role, someone else will.