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The key role of the CIO -Chief Information Officer-for transformation 

Updated: Apr 23

For many people, new technologies trigger both fascination and a rather uncomfortable uncertainty. Humans are creatures of habit, and many of us are familiar with the fear of the unknown. Hollywood has also addressed this tension: for decades, science fiction films have sensitized us to the possibility that technology could one day overtake us and, in the worst case, control us. From the classic Blade Runner to Metropolis to Terminator and A.I. - what until recently fell into the genre of utopia is not so far from reality today.

a robotic hand touching interface looks like a digital or graphic representation of a robotic hand, suggesting a theme of technology or artificial intelligence

Technology for our benefit

Even if the worst-case scenario did not materialize and the film business did not predict the future, technological progress, especially in combination with the megatrend of Big Data and the use of ever-new digital communication channels, have a huge impact on our everyday lives. It is hard to imagine life without this dimension, and while it requires responsible handling, it should not be characterized by fear of the unknown - the goal has always been for all our lives to become easier thanks to technical innovations. This requires the skills to deploy and use these technologies.

From IT to Business Intelligence

This also applies to the application of information technology in companies. Around the millennium, many companies were concerned with ensuring that IT functioned properly. CIOs (Chief Information Officers) were still the exception - nor did IT services have a direct reporting line to the highest management level. Digitization advanced rapidly, and many companies and governments recognized not only the added value but also the absolute urgency to drive it forward with the motivation to close security gaps, drive business growth and secure competitive advantage. Today, chatbots and other digital workers are part of our lives. In Japan, robots are an integral workforce in elder care, and during the Corona pandemic, images of patrolling robot dogs went around the world.

Things are not quite as advanced around the globe, and in many companies, the focus is -somewhat less spectacular - not on the robotics of the future, but at least on reducing costs, avoiding risks, and making optimum use of data through digitization. In addition, automation and artificial intelligence have the potential to take a lot of work off our hands. In the process, vast amounts of data are documented and stored every day. This data has great value, and it pays off to know how to use it to one’s advantage. This has also coined the term "business intelligence", referring to a technology-driven process for analyzing data and actionable information to help executives make “better” decisions: the goal is to ensure that decisions are data-driven, rather than being based on subjective emotions, and thus ensure long-term business success.

IT is system-critical - and therefore a matter for management

It is a matter of digitizing a company, on the one hand and dealing with it on the other. Digitization focuses on optimizing internal and external processes to save resources, automate tedious and time-consuming tasks as far as possible, or optimize the customer journey or product development. Addressing these issues is so relevant to a company's business success that the approach of placing IT at the highest level with a CIO is now the order of the day. Anyone who was not yet convinced of this at the beginning of 2020 was convinced at the latest by the great shift during the pandemic, when from one day to the next a large proportion of the workforce worked from home. What was hardly imaginable before became reality overnight – also thanks to the top performance of IT managers.

Digitization means transformation

But not all CIOs are the same. The decisive factor is how involved a CIO is in corporate strategy and management. Everyday issues such as infrastructure, cybersecurity, and updates can already fill the day. But the role of the CIO becomes absolutely key when digitization projects are transformative in nature. Of course, stable operations and ensuring IT security are the foundation, but the potential is much greater. This is certainly why some CEOs make it a point to be responsible for IT themselves. But it pays to recruit a CIO. Technology is evolving rapidly and investing in the expertise to make the most of new developments in risk management at the least, and a business growth opportunity at best.

The CIO as a facilitator for cultural change

It is well known that digitization and transformation projects often fail not because of technology, but because of cultural resistance. In this respect, the CIO also bears an important responsibility for the cultural development of a company. So, the CIO is much more than a “tech nerd”. He or she also has an important role as a mediator and communicator, to allay employees' fears, educate them, and, above all, demonstrate the benefits of technological change. Because even if Hollywood has taken root in our minds and many people tend to shy away from change: new technology brings many benefits. For that, we need to understand how new processes work. Often, a lack of understanding is followed by enthusiasm for new, better, and more efficient processes. In this way, a good CIO can get things moving in the company and help to ensure the long-term success of the business.

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