Four ways CIOs can drive digital transformation

Practical steps business leaders can take to overcome digital transformation challenges

Woman interacting with digital screen

By now, most organisations recognise the importance of digital transformation. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to operate remotely and consider a hybrid work model going forward, the need to adopt technology to support collaboration and communication is key. The last 12 months certainly proved that it pays to have reliable yet flexible technology baked into the core of your business model.

Digital transformation gives CIOs an opportunity to play a crucial part in ensuring their organisations can stay relevant, competitive and navigate disruption.

Despite the positives, many CIOs struggle to get their digital transformations efforts off the ground, and many businesses find it difficult to meet their digital objectives because of problems with funding, investment in the wrong technology and disputes over digital transformation initiatives. However, if a digital transformation strategy is implemented correctly, it should naturally lead to improved productivity and a positive bottom line. Any short-term digital transformation pain should eventually shift to long-term gain.

So what can CIOs and business leaders do to get past the challenges? Here are some simple, practical steps towards ensuring your digital transformation efforts are going in the right direction and helping your organisation run more efficiently and effectively.

Let data do the driving

One practical way CIOs can achieve digital transformation is by fostering a data-driven culture. Data-driven businesses have output and productivity gains that are 5%-6% higher than other companies, according to a study from the University of Cambridge.

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Employees at all levels can benefit from access to analytics tools, from senior management to front-office staff. Using analytics to extract meaningful insight from data can be key to business growth. This isn't just related to external customer data; analytics can be used to examine productivity and improve internal processes.

When business and operational data is made broadly available, decision-making is accelerated, whether that be day-to-day customer feedback or wider business trends.

Showing staff how technology can benefit them will encourage them to get on board with the changes, and help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. With the right tools and hardware in place, the workplace will likely experience an uptick in productivity, bringing an overall benefit to the business.

Get leaders on board

Gaining buy-in from divisional leaders and business leaders is critical to making any digital transformation initiatives succeed. This is often easier said than done, but there are approaches CIOs can take to get the leadership on board with new ideas. And, after technology’s vital business role in 2020 and the early months of 2021, leaders may be more inclined to listen. 

One way is by collaborating to address a specific business problem, which in turn will help CIOs understand what the end goal is for that scenario and what roles are required to get there. This also helps the development of softer skills, such as the ability to build interdepartmental relationships and a broader understanding of the wider business, both objectives that are increasingly key to the success of the CIO role.

It's vital for CIOs to be able to communicate their ideas to senior leaders clearly and highlight the tangible business benefits. Not every exec will be tech-savvy, so it's critical to get this detail across in a manner that's straightforward and easy to grasp.

Set metrics for success

Although most business leaders are now on board with the need to drive digital change, nearly half of CEOs have no way of measuring the success of their digital transformation projects, according to research by Gartner.

But any success metrics must go beyond basic KPIs that can be easily checked off, and users must understand how it all works together across the organisation, otherwise initiatives and tools risk becoming siloed. Users must be able to quickly and easily find value in the new tools, and CIOs should be able to demonstrate the net business benefit.

These may not be things that are easy to measure or get honest feedback for, but getting the user experience right is one of the most critical parts of digital transformation for employees, partners and external customers. Metrics for success must take into account how that technology has driven the business forward beyond just cosmetic changes.

Alter organisational structure

The proverb 'less is more' applies to much in life, and within the IT-sphere nowhere is this more obvious than with digital transformation projects.

As mentioned previously, initiatives that snake through several layers of an organisation can conflict and therefore be counterproductive to digital transformation efforts as a whole. Each element of the wider strategy should be concise in its expected effect, allowing for a cleaner, more predictable transformation.

Not only does this make for a smoother transition, but it also comes at a cheaper price. Often, technologies are under-utilised in terms of their functionality. A cheaper option or package may have been cast aside in favour of a more attractive product that in reality doesn't provide a strong enough ROI. To drive digital transformation, only the right technology with the right modifications should be deployed.

But this can only be achieved by having the right organisational structure in place. The developers building and maintaining deployed technologies must be fully engaged, and barriers removed between themselves, at employee level, and the decision makers at director level. This would permit smooth communication across departments, ensuring the initiatives and requirements are clearly translated.

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