The following is a guest article from Neil Kinson, chief of staff at Redwood Software.
The widespread adoption of new technologies like automation, machine learning and cloud has not just disrupted established industries but has also changed the face of the C-suite.
The role of the chief information officer has become more demanding than ever before, as companies across industries are trying to stay ahead of digitally native startups. In this era of digitalization, it is up to the CIO to ensure their enterprise has the tech chops to stay ahead — or face certain disruption.
So, how can enterprise CIOs identify whether their company is at risk of a Blockbuster-sized downfall?
It largely comes down to their technology stack and whether legacy systems have been upgraded in recent years.
In addition to recreating the company's information backbone without stifling growth, CIOs must also refocus company culture and harness the assets that come with being an established organization to get ahead tech-first startups.
This is not to say that you must dump all of your company's technology and start from scratch to stay relevant.
In fact, that is most often a losing strategy as well. Fending off disruption requires shifts in the CIO role, digital transformation planning and a committed focus on the new currency of business — data.
CIOs, the new IT tacticians
The role of the CIO has evolved as technology has grown ever more important to business.
Although advancements in tech have brought overwhelmingly positive results, they have also highlighted an ongoing misalignment between what the boardroom wants and what IT teams deliver.
This disconnect has increased pressure on CIOs to break this cycle and prove their value. The challenge of preventing disruption is an opportunity for the enterprise CIO to redefine their role and reinstate their leadership.
The discrepancy between the board and the CIO is particularly evident in the pressures to incorporate emerging technologies such as AI and automation into the enterprise.
Board members are often wary of massive changes to business practices, especially when there is no immediate consequence. CIOs must work with their board of directors rather than against them to successfully roll out long-lasting changes.
It is also important to remember that despite the urgency to begin deploying buzzy new technologies, CIOs must first take a breath and capitalize on the opportunity to mould their "new" role as their organizations work towards digital transformation.
An inability to use technology in the best way has left many CIOs stuck in a fast-paced hamster wheel, desperate to deliver but not knowing how.
As the AI hype soared last year, for example, companies raced to execute tech-first initiatives that ultimately failed— leaving companies disillusioned by pilots or even full use cases conducted in 2018. With technology continuing to evolve at an exponential rate, CIOs must be open to change, but they must be strategic.
CIOs that are able to think analytically about what tech solutions are out there, and are not swept up in the hype, will better understand the true needs of their organization and be better equipped to work with their companies in execution.
Walk, don't run
The term "digital transformation" has become overused and is verging on cliché.
While the process is still highly relevant and critical for businesses to implement, companies have lost sight of what digital transformation actually entails.
The excessive — and sometimes, incorrect use — of this term has left business leadership confused when it comes to selecting and executing new technology to speed business processes and improve productivity, and eventually, profitability.
CIOs must prioritize bringing routine processes and business practices into the 21st century, otherwise they'll be ill-prepared to face the business challenges of the years and decades ahead appropriately. This is the year to change.
Organizations need to overcome the overwhelming idea of upgrading decades-old hardware and strive to become digital-first — even if that means justifying the costs to a wary board of directors.
After all, end users have non-negotiable expectations when it comes to speed, flexibility, and their tech's ease of use.
One potential avenue for companies looking to ease into digital transformation is looking into technologies and solutions that augment legacy tools, rather than completely replacing them.
This direction avoids a massive and immediate overhaul, while enabling companies to start their transformation journey and capitalize on digital advantages like speed and flexibility.
Tackle the core issue
Change starts at an organization's core, so reframing a company's culture is instrumental to digital transformation success.
Management — across the functional areas — must advocate for new technology initiatives, as well as enthusiastically educating the broader organization. Proper training and over-communication of new tech will encourage the broader organization be more receptive to new solutions.
The CIO should be the one to spearhead this companywide shift. This involves strategic conversations with the board of directors, planning appropriate training programs for existing staff and answering basic questions like, "why do I have to do this?"
If successfully done, CIOs can inspire a great shift in perspective that will lend to a smoother transition and productive change.
An old dog's new tricks
Established organizations may feel insecure in executing massive digital transformation efforts, however, they must remember they have one thing that start-ups don't — data.
As data becomes increasingly precious, companies must capitalize on the stockpiles they have and use it to their advantage. Businesses can use it to automate routine process, run analytics programs and implement machine learning systems.
If the data is managed well, legacy organizations will be well equipped to make better decisions, extract strategic insights and speed up processes.
Enterprises new to digital transformation must not become discouraged and should look to examples of success.
Many traditional institutions are doing an excellent job keeping up with the new kids on the block.
This is evident in the success of financial institutions, which have begun leveraging their customer data to stay competitive with digital competitors. Features like real-time credit card fraud recognition require both machine learning and decades of historical customer records that start-ups simply don't have.
Although digital transformation efforts require a lot of difficult conversations, advocacy and plain elbow grease from CIOs, a well thought out plan will result in greater employee satisfaction and a more durable company overall — eventually even improving customer experience.
Redefining the CIO's role so they ease companies into digital transformation from the ground up is key. Change is never easy but if done properly, can be the difference between a failed legacy company and a long-standing industry titan.