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Digital technology has been booming in recent years and is at the heart of a new era that is changing the traditional socio-economic models of business and government. There is general agreement that the digital revolution is a tremendous opportunity for state development and business growth. However, this transformation cannot take place without a profound change in organizations, processes and working methods. It requires judicious technological choices.

In this new world, a new position is emerging: the chief digital officer (CDO). This role epitomizes the digital transformation of the company. Its actual existence in organizations remains limited and often this function is implicitly fulfilled out by the CIO. Two questions thus naturally arise:

  • To what extent can the CIO fulfil the role of CDO? 
  • What is at stake for the survival of an IT department when organizations are in the midst of digital change, thus increasing the risk of the development of "shadow IT"?

IT departments are often severely criticized for their lack of collaboration with business departments, for the information system's lack of agility and its high operating costs. So how should an IT department help with the impacts of the digital transformation that is occurring in a more complex, transversal, open and connected model, one that demands agility and collaboration?

The findings of the Gartner 2018 CIO Agenda reveal that 95% of CIOs believe that their business is or will be impacted by the rapid growth of digital. The main challenge is to reinvent the IT department's mission so that it becomes a force that embodies and drives this digital transformation in partnership with the different business departments.

From our point of view, the CIO is an excellent candidate for the position of CDO because he occupies a privileged position in the company because of their already transversal role (collaborating with the business departments and support staff), due to his greater familiarity with technological issues and because he is part of the executive committee and sometimes sits on the board of directors.

Key factors for the CIO's success in carrying out the work of CDO
Through the numerous projects we have carried out, as well as discussions with the various departments, IT departments, technical leaders, publishers and solution integrators, we have identified the key success factors that ensure that a CIO is a real catalyst in the digital transformation of their company:

  1. End to end agility

One of the first key factors for the success of the digital transformation of companies is the adoption of the agile model for optimizing the TTM (time to market) and thus outpacing the competition.

A study conducted by ESG (How IT Transformation Maturity drives IT Agility, Innovation and Improved Business Outcomes, ESG, April 2017) shows that digital companies have a greater ability to complete IT projects ahead of schedule than traditional companies. A digital company with dozens, if not hundreds, of IT projects in a calendar year can complete three times as many projects ahead of schedule than a traditional company with a comparable number of projects. The impact is significant both in terms of profitability and in terms of efficiency and capitalization.

The agile model is becoming essential when it comes to organization, working with the business divisions as well as for building cross-functional teams. It involves replacing an approach to projects marked by the "tunnel effect" with one that involves dividing them into short cycles (on average 1 to 3 months) corresponding to the specific requirements of each business. This segmentation makes it possible to create interruptible stages allowing new developments to be quickly taken into account and giving the IT department the ability to say "yes" to potential requests for changes to the initial roadmap.

  1. IT strategy alignment

A recent study by KMPG (Portrait-Robot du DSI, étude KPMG, July 2018) shows that more than half of companies (55%) consider that their IT strategy is not aligned with their business strategy. While traditional businesses may have managed to survive in the past despite this discrepancy, there is a risk that they will no longer be able to do so in the future.

Establishing a clear vision of the targeted IT that is consistent with the business strategy is a crucial condition for achieving sustainable digital transformation. Such a vision is clearly an invaluable competitive advantage for the development of the company.

Enterprise Architecture standards enable the development of target architectures that correspond to business strategy. A target provides direction and needs to be updated as projects, new priorities and technological advances unfold, and whenever there are changes in business strategy,

The art of the CIO lies in hitting a moving target, with only one thing remaining constant: ensuring optimal alignment with the business. Defining an IT master plan and identifying the steps needed to translate business needs into technical deliverables is the only way to ensure this alignment.

Unfortunately, we are still seeing a gap between the stages of data collection in terms of business needs, the drafting of specifications, the selection of suppliers and integrators as well as in the stages of project implementation. Because of lack of resources, when the implementation project starts, the original specifications are departed from in order to allow the integrator to implement the standard functions of their solution, sometimes without taking into account all the specifications particular to the company. This is where the misalignment between IT and business begins. This alignment cannot be perfect, but any discrepancies must be carefully studied, evaluated and traced in order to assess their impacts and reduce them over time.

  1. User experience development

In order for an IT department to play a role in digital transformation, it is important for it to free itself from recurring activities that have little added value for the business departments.

The industrialization of recurring tasks is already well underway and ITIL recommendations concerning change management are often well implemented. However, there is still little consideration of the needs of the different businesses when choosing IT technologies and tools.

Today, many IT departments are reluctant to move to the cloud, yet cloud providers can respond more quickly to business needs than their own CIOs.  The IT department can take advantage of these new technologies and work on solutions to address security, performance and other risks.

To save time, IT departments would do well to increase the number of self-service functions via a dedicated portal and to involve the various businesses in the design of the IT services catalogue - including the use by employees of their personal terminals -, and finally to approach "user experience" in the same way as they do customer experience.

  1. Promoting teamwork and developing creativity and innovation

"Individually we are a drop of water. Together we are an ocean," says Ryunosuke Satoro.

Several companies have already established co-working spaces with input from their employees, have developed collaborative tools to encourage multi-site sharing and interaction, have created communities around specific interests and themes, have developed MOOCs for employee training, have proposed suggestion boxes to harness creative energy, and have expanded initiatives that enhance the company's intelligence.

It is essential for CIOs to engage in dialogue with all departments and to guarantee the orchestration and introduction of all the tools that encourage innovation and collaboration, including for their own benefit by enabling the development of POCs.

As you can see, for an IT department to survive in this digital war, it is no longer enough to simply respond to requests; instead, it is essential to surprise, anticipate and take the lead.

Agility, building an IT system that is in line with the business strategy, enhancing the user experience, anticipation and innovation: these are the keys to success for an IT department that embodies its company's digital transformation.

By Samia Bendali-Amor, IT consulting manager, Sofrecom Group

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