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CIOs must help their organisations unlock imagination and agility

Nov 13, 2017

We’re often told by business consultants and by CEOs themselves that the biggest challenges on business leaders’ plates are external factors such as tightening of regulation, shortages of key skills, the breakneck speed of technology’s evolution and growing competition. But perhaps members of the C-suite need to look inside their own organisations to understand what it is that truly holds them back.

Let’s face it – most of the issues I mentioned before have been with us since before the financial crisis and before the rise of the Internet. Though the rate of change has picked up, CEOs have been wrestling with the impact of new technologies, growing regulation and shortages of key technical and management skills for decades. This is the playing field and those are the rules of the game of global business.

Rather than fixating only on the external factors, perhaps business leaders should ask themselves what the challenges are within their organisations and their boardrooms. For many, it’s a lack of organisational flexibility, agility and imagination. As human beings, we’re also prone to cognitive bias and are driven by ego rather than rationality, and that comes through in how leaders lead their organisations.

That means that even as members of the C-suite feel anxious about the pace of digital disruption or the rise of new competitors or the advent of new regulations, they are able to deny what it might mean for their businesses. Surely our well-established business with its millions of customers is immune to digital competition? And can the impact of those new regulations really be that dramatic?

A large part of remaining relevant in this world is simply embracing change and building an organisation that is adaptable, innovative and equipped with the data and information it needs to prepare for the future. This is where CIOs have an important role to play for their organisations – as agents and supporters of strategic change.

Part of this is about working with CEOs to understand how fit their infrastructure and applications are for an evolving world of technology. This is about making a sober evaluation of the cost to the company of its legacy systems and the potential return on investment from new technology. It is about helping business leaders understand when to get on board the latest disruptive trends – artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, big data, everything-as-a-service – and how the organisation can benefit from exponential progress. 

This context means, of course, that far-sighted CIOs have a more important role to play than ever before. Their CEOs need them not for their technology skills, but for their strategic insight and their business acumen. They require them to enable change rather than to block it; indeed, they must be the fiercest advocates for progress. They must be the keys to unlocking imagination, agility and change in their companies.

Looking at today’s landscape, there are handful of CIOs that are driving this strategic agenda. There are also many who are gatekeepers who try to keep the wider business out of their technology domain and others that are invested in maintaining the status quo because they, too, fear change. CIOs can help transform their organisations for a new era, but they need to be wide-eyed and courageous to do so.

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