The Evolving Role of CIOs in the Age of Digital Transformation


How do you manage digital transformation when you are a CIO of a large organization? While going digital has become a mandate, it can still be a scary proposition considering the scale and complexity of an organization’s computer system and the rapid pace of technological change. Regardless, it presents an opportunity for CIOs to reposition themselves at the heart of business operations.

Evolution of computer systems in large companies

Over the years, most large companies have accumulated many layers of technology. Some management systems – such as those in the Banking and Insurance industries – work well despite running on technologies that are more than forty years old. During that time, multiple architectures, frameworks, web services, and languages – some more successful than others – have appeared on the market and have been adopted by these same companies. Add to that the disparate technologies accumulated from mergers and acquisitions, not to mention the problems due to system integration, and these layers have created a huge "cluster" of interconnected applications; a cluster that companies must manage.

Making matters worse, IT departments have seemingly become the main target of budget crunching, leaving teams to do more with less to contain and maintain systems. And let's not forget the image of CIOs in recent years, which has not always been very positive with users due to lack of responsiveness, interface complexities, and not responding to user needs, which have arisen during developments, causing delays in delivery, interruptions of services, waiting on the disposition of incident tickets…the list seems endless.

Impact of Digital Transformation on CIOs

Whether it is independent of these issues or because of them, the digital transformation companies are experiencing on a daily basis has been causing a sea change in the configuration of IT departments, and has had many significant impacts on the roles of CIO, including:

  • Communication: With the advent of digital transformation, the positive effect of "cloud" and Amazon-like environments has saved valuable time because previously time-intensive steps – such as the installation issues and long lead times before startup – have been eliminated. Users don’t have to wait a few months to have their needs fulfilled by the IT department. At AXA, business lines and IT teams work together on a business platform through means designed to foster an environment of working together as they continually realign they system. It comes down to creating a collaborative mindset that takes time at the beginning, but ultimately allows everyone to become involved in the insurance business.
  • Distribution: To respond to this "delivery" emergency, one strategy is to set up services whose distribution must be managed, while preventing end-users from turning to solutions outside the company. A CIO must develop a privileged relationship with the business teams and try to establish a partnership with them.
  • Maintenance: This challenge appears all the more difficult as CIOs continue to manage the existing information system, while also looking for ways to save money on maintenance, which can then be reinvest in new technologies and applications. This means a CIO must remain adept at managing the assets of his or her department.
  • Monitoring: The current environment of rapid delivery cycles forces CIOs to arm themselves with tools in-house that better monitor production chains, development quality, security and stability of the IT infrastructure, and the stability of the system’s architecture, while also appraising the productivity of development teams, both internal and external.
  • Interconnection: Digital transformation creates even more complex, decentralized systems, which are made up of small applications that interact with large systems. For objects connected to Big Data, it is crucial to take interconnection into account not only for internal systems, but also for all outside suppliers and customers with which the IT department works.
  • Innovation: It appears crucial for large companies and IT departments to develop a privileged relationship with the many startups, projects, and research firms that are emerging in the market. Working with these startups, creating partnerships to open up to the outside world, and adapting their tactics are all steps to develop in order to ensure an innovation service that is attentive to the evolution of the market, and therefore will always deliver services adapted to the users’ needs. 
  • Internal training: New challenges to digital transformation appear daily and require very specialized skills. The impact of internal teams and outside partners working together is also significant. The CIO must be proactive in order to allow internal employees to train and adapt. More and more international markets require organizations to satisfy needs on an ongoing basis, 24 hours a day. CIOs must therefore organize themselves and work in collaboration with outsourced teams that they must direct, motivate, and supervise, all the while maintaining the direction of the IT department.

The moral of the story is that CIOs cannot act alone and must surround themselves with competent teams not only to contain the developments of legacy systems, but also to invest and innovate to provide products or services to the market to end users as soon as possible.

The CIO of today is now at the intersection of the company’s teams, end users, market players, partnerships, startups, and publishers. Digital transformation offers CIOs an opportunity to reestablish themselves as an essential owner of better, faster service for all facets of the business.
Damien Charlemagne
Damien Charlemagne Senior Product Manager
Damien is a Senior Product Manager at CAST and for the last decade has helped developers, technical leaders and C- Level executives understand complex architecture and software design. He is passionate about the constant evolution of IT systems at large enterprises and keeping stakeholders up-to-speed on emerging business technologies.
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