Three Practical Strategies for CIOs in the Digital Enterprise

The tsunami of change washing over the landscape for CIOs can perhaps best be summed up by the phrase “digital enterprise”—a catchall term encompassing the fundamental redesign of business processes to adapt to big data, the Internet of Things, the consumerization of IT, cloud computing, and other developments.

CIO strategies for the digital enterpriseThe movement is nearly universal: in a recent Altimeter Group survey, 88 percent of “digital strategy executives interviewed said their organizations are undergoing formal digital transformation efforts this year.”

And there is no shortage of opinion about how this is reshaping and expanding the responsibilities of CIOs: a Google search for “CIO role digital enterprise” yields more than 920,000 results.

As reported by Google Trends, interest in the phrase took off starting in late 2009 and, with a few spikes and valleys, has continued to grow since.

Search interest in "digital enterprise" per Google Trends

Most CIOs understand that as dramatic as these changes are, they still require an evolutionary approach. Core enterprise management and control systems—many of which have been in place for years (if not decades)—won’t be replaced overnight. What’s required are tools that enable CIOs and their teams to rapidly solve urgent but constantly evolving business requirements, and that work with their existing technology—as well as whatever they will have in place tomorrow.

How CIOs can most effectively respond to the multiple components of change driving digital enterprise transformation is a very broad topic, but CIO Insight writer Samuel Greengard provides a helpful overview in The CIO’s Evolving Role in the Digital Enterprise.

Greengard writes that “For CIOs, it’s the best of times and the worst of times. On one hand, a CIO’s opportunities to build a successful business and IT organization have never been greater. On the other hand, drawing a roadmap and creating a strategy that delivers the organization at the gateway to a digital enterprise is daunting.”

Here are three strategies Greengard outlines, with additional interpretation.

Build an Infrastructure for Change

Greengard quotes Brad Brown, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, stating “it’s critical to build a framework and infrastructure that allows the organization to transform ideas into real world capabilities.”

Today, that technology framework is likely to be some variant of an evolving, hybrid cloud infrastructure. IT departments need to be brokers of cloud computing services, while also providing easy-to-use data integration tools using open communication protocols (API’s, Web Services, SOAP, REST, etc.) to link information from federated enterprise data sources, wherever that data resides. Such integrations can easily be updated as core legacy management and control systems are upgraded, moved to the cloud, or replaced.

Use Systems of Engagement for Flexibility

Greengard writes that Adam Burden, managing director of emerging technology innovation at Accenture, “believes that CIOs play a vital role in guiding the enterprise toward a digital fabric that, in turn, supports new models of development and embraces a more agile and flexible framework. Part of the answer, he says, is shifting toward more modular and simpler apps that complement core—and complex—enterprise systems.”

Such apps can be developed, in a rapid timeframe using an agile approach, by creating user- and mobile-friendly systems of engagement that access data from one or more systems of record. The apps can be simply designed and easy to use—even requiring no training—because they serve a well-defined but limited purpose, and are populated on the back-end with “known” data about the user (name, phone number, email, location, role, etc.) based on a single sign-on.

Empower Process Owners for Speed

“There’s also a need to explore and experiment, particularly in the arena of idea generation and rapid prototyping,” according to Greengard. He cites “group jam sessions or hack-a-thons” as methods, or establishing “a bottom-up view that plugs in input from the entire workforce.”

Utilizing tools and agile methodologies to enable developers to rapidly build apps that address pressing business issues is a step in the right direction. But even more helpful is providing non-technical business process owners with graphical task mapping tools that allow them to automate their own workflow processes, with minimal assistance from IT. This frees IT staff for other priorities and enables business process owners to test, modify, and optimize their task workflows without touching core legacy application code.

The ways in which CIOs will spend their time (less on infrastructure, more on business objectives), along with their priorities and responsibilities, will change significantly over the next several years. IT leaders will need to address this evolution through a range of strategies and tactics in recruiting, retraining, and technology investments. But practical strategies encompassing evolution, agility, and empowerment—as outlined above—will play a key role in supporting the digital enterprise.

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