Leading the Digital Transformation: Whose Role Is It?


No matter the industry vertical, digital transformation (DX) is essential for businesses of all sizes to remain competitive. Digital technologies are changing the global corporate strategy, with the majority of organizations planning at least some integration built into their business. More than ever, DX is intertwined with business success, which is why having someone at a C-suite-level position in charge of the transformation is vital. Without clear leadership, and “the proper framing and orchestration at the overall company level, the best initiatives will fail to get the attention and investment they need,” the Harvard Business Review reports. In their opinion, it is the CEO who has the power to provide this type of leadership. However, others would argue vehemently against the CEO being the right person to lead a company into a new digital age powered by operational intelligence.

Which leaves us with the following question:

Who Should Take over the DX Leadership Role?

As Forbes reports, CIOs and CTOs have collectively taken the lead in DX efforts only 19 percent of the time. It is typically the CMO that is more likely to take charge. This agrees with a study that found CMOs are spending more on technology than CIOs because “marketing technology is now among these core systems. Customer preferences and behaviors have changed and buying journeys are increasingly self-directed and digitally led. Which means that, more than ever, multichannel marketing is among the most critical customer-facing, revenue-generating functions.”

But, even though digitally inclined CMOs are spending the money on continuous improvement on the business model, the CIO remains the most logical choice to lead the digital revolution, for it is the CIO who will most intimately understand an organization's current and coming IT needs and imperatives.

CIOs Possess the Solutions and Teams to Navigate the Digital Present and Future

One of the most vital pieces of the digital transformation is the migration of applications to the cloud. As an executive who is at the frontline of this migration, a CIO must ensure that there is a responsive, nimble and comprehensive business assurance strategy that minimizes business risk while improving application performance and assuring consistent, uninterrupted user experience. By working closely with his or her IT department, the CIO can provide a smooth transition between new technologies and what different business departments need to better do their jobs in a digital world.

Plus, “as digital continues to disrupt and change traditional business and operational models, CIOs have a tremendous opportunity to strategically unite disjointed departmental digital efforts,” says Khalid Kark, Managing Director at Deloitte's CIO Program.

The IT organization has the charter to deliver business value through services empowered by hybrid cloud, multi-cloud, virtualization, and mobility. And so, the CIO counts on the ability to lead an organization into a dynamic business environment built on service reliability, availability, and responsiveness. But business services leveraging innovative technologies and accelerators are only as good as the visibility IT has of the entire infrastructure, workloads on-premises or in the hybrid cloud, and application interdependencies. 

In an age of infinite devices, multiplying cloud applications and growing connectivity, the CIO can effectively leverage swaths of smart data and business intelligence, using both as part of a dynamic feedback loop that delivers experiences customers themselves will come to dictate, while also nurturing the outgrowth of new business models and revenue streams.  More so, by turning wire data (traffic flows) into smart data, a CIO can then not only deliver on the operational intelligence the Harvard Business Review calls for but will come to rely on it as a lighthouse by which to assure service delivery in a highly complex IT environment and navigate against rising technology trends.

While the CIO should be the position taking the lead, every digital transformation has to be a cooperative effort. As mentioned earlier, the CMO has a higher investment in technologies, so their input on applications used and how they fit into the business model is imperative. Likewise, the CEO and CFO need to be involved in order to direct the strategies and budget for continuous improvement. But by designating the person most in tune with a company’s IT as the one to lead DX, an organization can deliver its unique business model and stay ahead of always-shifting customer demands and expectations.

~Written by Sue Poremba. Sue Poremba is a freelance writer based in State College, Pennsylvania. She primarily covers cybersecurity and emerging technology, with a particular emphasis on how emerging technology and cybersecurity overlap.