The 'IT Factor' -- And How It Can Help Or Hinder Digital Transformation

Post written by

Eric Hutto

Senior Vice President and President for Enterprise Solutions at Unisys.

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Nearly a decade ago I was at a business roundtable in Dallas. Speaking to an audience comprised primarily of CIOs and COOs, I said, “I think in 10 years you don’t exist.”

My timing may have been off a little, but I believe my point was spot on in a sense. The CIO and COO worlds are colliding. Most enterprises still have separate CIO and COO positions. But what they may really need are CIOOs. They can roll those two functions into one.

Here’s why.

Technology is all about the experience.

We live in the age of experience. Technology delivers the experiences that drive revenue. You can’t be the best possible COO if you don’t understand how to use automation and technology to operate the business and delight and retain customers. And you can’t be the best possible CIO if you don’t understand where technology should be applied to create great experiences.

My concern is that CIOs and other IT leaders may be business-involved, but they’re not always business-minded. CIOs have a seat at the table alongside other business owners. But that’s different than being business-minded, which is where the IT factor should evolve.

That may be due to a lack of interest on the CIO’s part. But many CIOs I've spoken to do care about experience. They just don’t have the time, budget or flexibility to take charge of experience.

That can change.

CIOs can adopt a COO's mindset.

I believe IT should be the operator -- not just the enabler -- of the business.

That means IT leaders should be as astute about the processes of their companies’ storefronts, their omnichannel experiences and their customers’ view of the business relationship as they are about the technology itself. That way, technologists can better understand the concerns and experiences of clients and how that equates to business wins and losses.

If CIOs and other technologists looked at things through that lens, they could likely make more impactful and less costly decisions. And they would be better positioned to provide great experiences.

Experience starts as an inside job.

I mention team members because to provide great customer experiences, you need the right talent, and you need to provide them with a great experience. Internal experience is a predecessor to the external experience.

If you don’t have the right talent, you can’t deliver the best experiences. So, you have to appeal to and retain great people, including your CIO. A lot of top talent today seems most interested in working on cool projects for companies that give back to the community. And they often get excited about work environments that encourage fun, creativity and flexibility.

Google really got it right with its competitive compensation and perks. I’m not suggesting we all buy sleep pods and slides for our business offices. What I am saying is that IT leaders need to find the right chemistry to attract and encourage design thinking. Those design thinkers can then provide better experiences and outcomes.

Finding the right chemistry hinges in part on breaking free of traditional structures. Top talent (in your CIO and their reports) may not come and stay if they don’t have the flexibility to advance and experiment on their own terms. This goes back to the point in my previous article that for digital transformation to succeed, businesses need to bust through the permafrost of legacy structure.

This kind of change is challenging.

CIOs and their teams are no strangers to change in terms of new and evolving technologies. It’s behavioral and cultural change that can be the challenge. However, many IT experts may be open to change; they just don’t have time to make it happen.

IT is under extreme pressure to help with so many aspects of digital business today. When it comes to technology, businesses seldom pick a path and stick to it. Instead, they’re all over the place; they focus on AI one minute and blockchain the next. That leaves IT professionals scrambling to address the latest bright, shiny object. They have to just react, react, react.

But we should give CIOs the time and space to settle themselves and gain perspective. Earlier in my career, an employer sent me to an executive training program. Getting away from work to develop new skills and gain new perspective really helped me. And I think it can help other leaders change, too.

CIOs can start with storytelling.

IT is often ill-equipped to deal with politics, positioning and perception. CIOs can better handle the three P's by cultivating storytelling prowess. That way, they can tell the rest of the executive team what’s possible. And they could illustrate how to affect positive change.

Developing a story and an emotional IQ can also help IT teams advance important efforts – and avoid wasting time on others.

It’s important to make sure the story you’re telling ties into the overall story in which your CEO or your board is interested. I can tell a story about football, but if everybody is playing basketball, it’s irrelevant.

Setting the context of your story is also key. Yet CIOs often jump right into the data or the facts. Instead, set the stage for why the story is worth reading. That’s important because there are many competing stories within senior leadership teams. The stories that are relevant and worth reading rise above the rest.

Finally, your story should have a fantastic finish. When you come out of a good movie, everyone is chattering about it. Your story as a CIO should have the same impact.

Many IT jobs are still very traditional. But the people who occupy those jobs aren’t delivering infrastructure anymore. Now they’re delivering experiences. But, to be clear, when I refer to the IT factor, I’m talking about more than just CIOs and IT teams. The IT factor is the experience factor. Combined collaboration creates the experience. That’s all "digital" really is: an experience.

The Industrial Revolution is over. We've lived through much of the Information Age. We’re now in the Experience Age. The IT factor can accelerate – or create a drag on – digital transformation efforts.

Forbes Business Development Council is an invitation-only community for sales and biz dev executives. Do I qualify?
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Getty

Nearly a decade ago I was at a business roundtable in Dallas. Speaking to an audience comprised primarily of CIOs and COOs, I said, “I think in 10 years you don’t exist.”

My timing may have been off a little, but I believe my point was spot on in a sense. The CIO and COO worlds are colliding. Most enterprises still have separate CIO and COO positions. But what they may really need are CIOOs. They can roll those two functions into one.

Here’s why.

Technology is all about the experience.

We live in the age of experience. Technology delivers the experiences that drive revenue. You can’t be the best possible COO if you don’t understand how to use automation and technology to operate the business and delight and retain customers. And you can’t be the best possible CIO if you don’t understand where technology should be applied to create great experiences.

My concern is that CIOs and other IT leaders may be business-involved, but they’re not always business-minded. CIOs have a seat at the table alongside other business owners. But that’s different than being business-minded, which is where the IT factor should evolve.

That may be due to a lack of interest on the CIO’s part. But many CIOs I've spoken to do care about experience. They just don’t have the time, budget or flexibility to take charge of experience.

That can change.

CIOs can adopt a COO's mindset.

I believe IT should be the operator -- not just the enabler -- of the business.

That means IT leaders should be as astute about the processes of their companies’ storefronts, their omnichannel experiences and their customers’ view of the business relationship as they are about the technology itself. That way, technologists can better understand the concerns and experiences of clients and how that equates to business wins and losses.

If CIOs and other technologists looked at things through that lens, they could likely make more impactful and less costly decisions. And they would be better positioned to provide great experiences.

Experience starts as an inside job.

I mention team members because to provide great customer experiences, you need the right talent, and you need to provide them with a great experience. Internal experience is a predecessor to the external experience.

If you don’t have the right talent, you can’t deliver the best experiences. So, you have to appeal to and retain great people, including your CIO. A lot of top talent today seems most interested in working on cool projects for companies that give back to the community. And they often get excited about work environments that encourage fun, creativity and flexibility.

Google really got it right with its competitive compensation and perks. I’m not suggesting we all buy sleep pods and slides for our business offices. What I am saying is that IT leaders need to find the right chemistry to attract and encourage design thinking. Those design thinkers can then provide better experiences and outcomes.

Finding the right chemistry hinges in part on breaking free of traditional structures. Top talent (in your CIO and their reports) may not come and stay if they don’t have the flexibility to advance and experiment on their own terms. This goes back to the point in my previous article that for digital transformation to succeed, businesses need to bust through the permafrost of legacy structure.

This kind of change is challenging.

CIOs and their teams are no strangers to change in terms of new and evolving technologies. It’s behavioral and cultural change that can be the challenge. However, many IT experts may be open to change; they just don’t have time to make it happen.

IT is under extreme pressure to help with so many aspects of digital business today. When it comes to technology, businesses seldom pick a path and stick to it. Instead, they’re all over the place; they focus on AI one minute and blockchain the next. That leaves IT professionals scrambling to address the latest bright, shiny object. They have to just react, react, react.

But we should give CIOs the time and space to settle themselves and gain perspective. Earlier in my career, an employer sent me to an executive training program. Getting away from work to develop new skills and gain new perspective really helped me. And I think it can help other leaders change, too.

CIOs can start with storytelling.

IT is often ill-equipped to deal with politics, positioning and perception. CIOs can better handle the three P's by cultivating storytelling prowess. That way, they can tell the rest of the executive team what’s possible. And they could illustrate how to affect positive change.

Developing a story and an emotional IQ can also help IT teams advance important efforts – and avoid wasting time on others.

It’s important to make sure the story you’re telling ties into the overall story in which your CEO or your board is interested. I can tell a story about football, but if everybody is playing basketball, it’s irrelevant.

Setting the context of your story is also key. Yet CIOs often jump right into the data or the facts. Instead, set the stage for why the story is worth reading. That’s important because there are many competing stories within senior leadership teams. The stories that are relevant and worth reading rise above the rest.

Finally, your story should have a fantastic finish. When you come out of a good movie, everyone is chattering about it. Your story as a CIO should have the same impact.

Many IT jobs are still very traditional. But the people who occupy those jobs aren’t delivering infrastructure anymore. Now they’re delivering experiences. But, to be clear, when I refer to the IT factor, I’m talking about more than just CIOs and IT teams. The IT factor is the experience factor. Combined collaboration creates the experience. That’s all "digital" really is: an experience.

The Industrial Revolution is over. We've lived through much of the Information Age. We’re now in the Experience Age. The IT factor can accelerate – or create a drag on – digital transformation efforts.

Forbes Business Development Council is an invitation-only community for sales and biz dev executives. Do I qualify?

Senior Vice President and President for Enterprise Solutions at Unisys.