Kathy Gibson is at Gartner Symposium in Cape Town – The role of the CIO – largely unchanged for the last three decades – is under threat, and this is being exacerbated by the digital business transformation.

The traditional CIO role is becoming commoditised, with less strategic relevance in the enterprise, says Partha Iyengar, distinguished vice-president analyst at Gartner.

“Some people are fine with that,” he adds. “But if that is not where you see yourself in five or 10 years, you need to inculcate revised leadership.”

Importantly, CIOs need to ask themselves if they even have the ability to make the changes that are going to be required to move up the value chain.

The journey starts with CEO expectations. Studies show that CEOs want digital transformation, but are dissatisfied with the results so far.

Today, 82% of CEO have digital transformation or management initiative, up from 62% of them in 2018; while 77% would increase investment in digital capabilities and 74% would increase IT investment.

At the same time CEOs’ uptake and progress with digitally-enabled business models is underwhelming, Iyengar says. And they are increasingly disappointed in the pace of change.

“Herein lies the opportunity and treat for CIOs,” he says. “They are at the centre of that storm.”

An interesting conundrum is that, while CEOs might be unhappy, CIOs are happy with progress. In fact, CIOs believe they are at the delivering, scaling and refining stage of digital transformation projects.

“It is incumbent on CIOs to figure out why the disconnect exists, and to connect the dots between their view of digital business success and the business view – and how to bring them together,” Iyengar says.

Part of the disconnect comes from the fact that the CIO’s technology-driven view of the business colours their sense of what the business leader’s view of digital transformation means.

CIOs should also be cognisant of the time it takes embed products of business ventures into an organisation. The average is about five to seven years, Iyengar says, and CIOs should set the right expectations in this regard up front.

A further complication is that, the minute conditions worsen, the pressure on short-term return on investment (ROI) increases.

To maintain momentum, digital business transformation initiatives need strategic planning and strong leadership, Iyengar explains.

“So the CIO’s role is not just to jump the curve, but to help peers in the enterprise do so as well. To do this they need to move beyond the traditional metrics, mindsets and competition to create new value, measure success in new ways, and develop new operating models.”

The CEO expects the CIO and IT to take a leading role in changing the business model, so CIOs need to exhibit digital leadership for themselves and for the executive team.

CIOs can start to drive a change of mindset and a mind shift by being the technology guide and talent scout for the organisation.

At the same time, CIOs need to help other other C-level executives to jump the curve to digital business design, Iyengar says. Other leaders need to reorganise to include technology expertise and software-style change management, and renew their perspective on value creation and competition.

“The CIO needs to drive these changes, but also bring colleagues into the equation,” Iyengar stresses.

There are a number of ways they can do this, he adds.

“The success of the CIO as a digital leader depends on the digital dexterity of senior leadership – so your future is not in your own hands. It is about how quickly you can make your colleagues more savvy in the digital world.

“Broad-based digital dexterity creates a defining moment for the CIO,” Iyengar says. “Management of the digital foundation will become a key focus on CIOs. It is no longer about being in the trenches.”

Gartner believes there are three models of digital leadership emerging.

This first is the initiation model that is typically seen in the early days of a digital business. In this instance, the CIO is a digital evangelist: creating a buzz, educating business leaders and leading people process and technology changes.

The second is acceleration, when the digital business activity start to accelerate. In this phase, the CIO moves form being an evangelist to a catalyst; and visionary business leaders focus recourse to exploit business opportunities.

The third model is mainstreamed, where every leader in the organisation is a digital leader and has the technology resources to complete the vision. The CIO is now the digital orchestrator.

“At this stage you stop talking about digital business as being a different thing from business,” Iyengar says.

It is critical that as the CIO moves along this curve, they bring the other C-suite leaders along with them, he adds. “Your own transformation, along with the transformation of your business peers in required.”

In terms of general management and digital mediation and delivery, as the CIO moves along the different phases, the role will move from decision-making to decision-influencing. The CIO will develop an increased business leader focus as they develop the digital dexterity and digital resources to take the lead.

When it comes to digital foundation building, the CIO will pivot from modernising to influence and co-ordination. The CIO’s strategic importance as the executive best placed to co-ordinate and influence digital activity will be heightened.

In terms of traditional IT management, IT operations will become increasingly automated and externalised. The declining CIO focus will be enabled by asset reduction, automation, and the rise of a chief information security officer and chief data officer.

Depending on where other C-level leaders are on the digital business transformation journey, the CIO could employ a number of different strategies to move them up the chain.

When leaders are neophytes or show little interest in technology, the reputation of silicon valley and startup success stories could ignite interest in digital.

Silicon/Chinese safaris could be employed to expose leaders to digital immersion bootcamps and high-tech companies, Iyengar says.

When leaders feel that digital technology use cases are abstract or out of reach, real world examples can help them to understand what digital can mean to a company.

Digital show and tells are useful to share internal example of prototypes to demonstrate the art of the possible.

When leaders are complacent and focus only on known competitor, fear of inaction and potential threats are an effective wake-up call.

Digital disruption scanning uses examples from current and potential competitors to trigger action.

For leaders struggling to prioritise or take their first steps, recognising how others overcome barriers builds confidence that digital business is within reach.

Peer to peer learning uses relationships with digitally dextrous leaders as social proof and inspiration.

For leaders struggling to apply lessons to their own context, experiental and collaborative learning is more effective than passive learning.

Focused leadership development programmes can be used to address the enterprise changes needed for digitalisation.