CIOs, emerging technologies, and transformation: The future of digital leadership

By Taylor Holland

The need for strong leadership and soaring ambitions in the digital space is real. But CIOs are ready to answer the call, with 24 percent of CIOs saying that they see themselves as technological visionaries and another 21 percent consider themselves transformational business leaders, according to the recent IBM Global C-suite study.

It's a far cry from just keeping the lights on. Along with continuing to digitize their organizations, pioneering CIOs are transforming employee and customer experiences by adopting emerging technologies, all while always keeping an eye open for future disruptions and opportunities to disrupt.

Emerging technologies are turning up the heat

Digital transformation isn't a destination; it's a never-ending race track where the course keeps changing and newer, faster cars continue to enter the race.

While CIOs are still scaling their efforts around cloud migration and advanced analytics, they're also looking to artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain and other emerging technologies that can streamline operations, improve user satisfaction and even drive new revenue.

Perhaps this is why CIOs perceive the greatest urgency to integrate emerging tech before their competitors do. Nearly one-third (31 percent) report feeling "high urgency" around digital transformation, while only 23 percent of CMOs and 19 percent of CEOs feel that way.

How CIOs lead digital transformation

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Pioneering Leadership program has interviewed top CIOs from around the world, asking how they integrate emerging technologies to keep their companies competitive. Key takeaways include the following:

1. Stay aware of new technologies and potential use cases to meet new customer demands

While focusing on current IT projects and problems, a CIO must always be thinking about the future as well: What are the latest emerging technologies? Which make sense for our business? What problems could they help to solve, and how?

Renata Marques, CIO of Whirlpool Latin America, says her greatest focus is on analytics and using AI to improve products, services and the customer experience. "My role as CIO is to be the conduit — to convert all the technical knowledge into a single strategy," she says.

"We believe in innovation with a purpose. We work to fully understand the consumer and offer innovation that has meaning, strong rigor and focuses on the consumer's benefit. We spend so much time and effort to understand what the consumer truly needs, for today and tomorrow."

2. Be creative about translating IT solutions into business innovations

Modern CIOs aren't just resident tech experts. They must be experts on the business itself.

"Technologies without the business acumen or those that fail to solve the relevant business problem are absolutely useless," says Ritesh Sarda, CIO of Sun Life Financial Hong Kong. "I think CIOs have to become more business savvy and have to be integrated and ingrained into the business so that we know how we can use technology to resolve business challenges and make things forward-looking from an industry perspective."

Sarda's organization is using robotic process automation to shore up system deficiencies, which means his team must understand those systems and workflows. "Bottom line, the CIO has moved from the back office to the boardroom," he says. "There's no boardroom conversation that happens without the CIO involved."

3. Leverage partnerships for innovation to pool resources and take risks

"Increasingly, we're going to have to demonstrate real leadership around technology. That requires a shift in skills, not just in the technology function, but across the company," says Simon Bolton, CIO of Jaguar Land Rover.

That means bringing in new talent, investing in existing talent and sometimes leveraging another organization's talent. In the race to digital transformation, companies are partnering with other companies, reaching out across industries and even to long-standing competitors.

Pioneering CIOs see the future of emerging tech without losing sight of the big picture of the business. They're constantly looking for opportunities to innovate and for talented employees and partners who can help make their tech vision a reality.

This article was originally published on Mobile Business Insights