Dealing with the digital enterprise land grab

Since the creation of the CIO function more than two decades ago, the role has continued to be a topic of much commentary and debate. Early predictions of its demise turned out to be unfounded, as the CIO role has continued to be remarkably resilient. However, as momentum for the digital enterprise continues to gather pace, there is growing speculation that the use-by date for the CIO role may have finally arrived.

The future role of the CIO is a far more complex issue, and it would be unreasonable to typecast CIOs as technocrats. Indeed, some CIOs are already leading the charge for digital reform, drawing on their well-honed skills of persuasion and negotiation, as well as their pragmatic understanding of internal processes.

Real world organisations are complex entities and a change of job titles will not by itself ensure success. A successful digital strategy will need to reach deep into the organisation and must challenge some long-held ideas about reform and best practice service delivery. Any manager who takes on the role must clearly understand the magnitude of the task ahead.

The digital enterprise is part of one of the big social realignments of our time

It would be easy to underestimate the far-reaching implications of the digital enterprise, or to simply write it off as no more than a continuation of earlier online initiatives, based on 20th century thinking.

Charles Darwin would have been pleased at the prospect of having his 19th century theories of evolution applied to 21st century digital enterprises.

Something quite fundamental has changed, and this time it is the community itself that is driving the need for change. The digital enterprise has become necessary because the customers have become digital customers.

Today, consumers are researching, communicating and making decisions online, anywhere and at any time. The changing habits of consumers have already had a profound impact on retail, media, financial services and many other sectors. This is not about rethinking the way an enterprise delivers its products and services. It is about rethinking the enterprise.

Darwinian logic will determine the fate of many contemporary enterprises

The sheer scale of this change has created opportunities for companies to be more innovative, and to rethink the traditional boundaries between the business and the consumer. Organisations that fail to evolve will eventually fail to exist. Charles Darwin would have been pleased at the prospect of having his 19th century theories of evolution applied to 21st century digital enterprises.

Read more:NZ ICT Predictions 2015: Success hinges on transition to become a technology focused organisation

Against this background, the reported land grab for corporate C-level positions would appear to miss the point. An old movie, Crocodile Dundee, once described such turf battles as "like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog".

Digital leadership is all about the external customer, and the need to build an agile organisation that can respond to changing customer requirements. Digital leadership will therefore need to be achieved through collaborative alignment across management structures, not by carving out discrete stovepipes of individual turf.

Job titles are important, but structure alone will not be sufficient

Organisational charts and job titles are important because they send a strong message about corporate direction and priorities. However, it would be unreasonable to expect that simply changing roles at the top of the organisation will by itself create a more innovative and digitally focused enterprise.

It is important to address the pragmatics of structure and how these structures can be used in driving change in a contemporary enterprise. The traditional organisational chart is just one component of the true structure of the organisation. Scratch the surface of any organisation and staff will quickly report how things really get done. The true structure is a combination of management + leadership + governance + culture. If any of these four factors are in contention, culture almost always wins out.

Many years ago, when IT managers first appeared in the corporate workplace, they were tasked with being advocates of technology and change. Today, IT managers must take care not to become typecast as the enforcers of the status-quo in a workplace that is fast becoming populated by technology advocates. The title of digital leadership belongs with the manager who is best positioned to actually deliver digital leadership, not just the manager who wants the title.

Kevin Noonan ( is research director, public sector, at Ovum.

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Kevin Noonan

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