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CIO as the Postdigital Catalyst

Technology-centric forces are driving business innovation. Who will lead the charge?


Download chapter  Watch video  Read more about the Postdigital Catalyst

Five macro forces – analytics, mobile, social, cloud and cyber – are hard at work enabling and disrupting organizations of many shapes and sizes. The Postdigital EnterpriseTM provokes and harvests these disruptions by changing operating models, capabilities and perhaps even business models. Industrialization wasn't complete when we entered the post-industrial era; it had simply become the new basis for competition. The same holds true for these digital forces in the Postdigital era.

CIOs are in a unique position to be the harbingers of change. To serve as catalysts across the executive suite, helping others understand the boundaries of the possible. To force thinking beyond veneering existing solutions and processes. To stand accountable for realizing transformation.

What’s at stake may very well be the future of the business. Tomorrow’s leading CIOs are likely to be those who rise to the challenge, perhaps reframed as the Chief Digital Officer, forging new identities as a postdigital catalyst – an agent to provoke or speed the move to the Postdigital era.

My Take
Hear Doug Albrecht, Director of Information Management for the Port of Long Beach, California, describe first-hand his perspective on the role of the CIO as the Postdigital Catalyst. Download Mp3


Watch video

Bill Briggs, director and deputy chief technology officer, Deloitte Consulting LLP, describes how the CIO of a food and beverage company harnessed the postdigital forces to shape the company’s digital marketing initiatives.


Read more about CIO as the Postdigital Catalyst

Where do you start?

CIOs should begin with a self-assessment of their relationships with fellow C-suite officers. How is the IT department perceived? Does the head of sales or the CFO have an opinion on the value that IT is creating for the organization? What do they know about the emerging postdigital forces of mobile, social, cloud, analytics and cyber? What are they doing about them? And, very importantly, how are they engaging with IT to pursue potential benefits?

  • Seed innovation. Create a pocket within your organization that has goals involving research and development (R&D). This can be heavier “D”, but it is important to explore the five postdigital forces and identify specific ways they can be applied to improve your business. Ask vendors and other business partners to fuel the ideation – not with abstract rhetoric, but with real examples with tangible outcomes. Find use cases that make the concepts real, regardless of industry or sector alignment. Innovation is just as much about the import/export flow of ideas than the “eureka” moments. Nurture the discovery of these potential catalytic possibilities.
  • Have essential conversations. Sit down and talk with each functional head. Understand their priorities, solicit feedback on your organization and start a dialogue about the potential of the postdigital forces based on real-world stories you’ve uncovered. Find out if they’ve started dabbling in any of the areas – even at the conceptual level. Acknowledge the need for a different operating and delivery model in these new spaces.
  • Retool. Few IT organizations are equipped to transition to the Postdigital era. Increased depth in both business and technical skills will likely be required, with a different mentality about what is possible and what new techniques are needed to deliver on the possibilities. Focus on business and technical architecture, creating expectations for both specialization and a broader understanding across solution touch points and the entire delivery lifecycle. This new world will likely require the close teaming of people with a wide range of skills, so grow your postdigital innovation team with that expectation in mind. Use it to guide hiring, facilities build-out (the physical space they’ll be working in matters) and methodologies for planning and delivery.
  • Prototype. Commit to expediting concept development using your modified approach. Ground projects in business objectives and simple metrics. Fight for a single, empowered business owner who can guide both the big picture direction and the tactical decisions of the project. Create a cadence of releasable code every few weeks – even if many of the incremental sprints will likely never be widely distributed. Pilot as soon as possible, using user feedback to guide the future direction of the solution. Adopt the mantra of plan big, start small, fail fast and scale appropriately. Rinse and repeat – adding additional domain areas across lines of business, and building towards more ambitious improvement initiatives.

Bottom line

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. There has likely never been more potential for the CIO to shape business performance and competitive stance. The collision of the five postdigital forces creates complexity along with opportunity. Innovation can start with ERP. Combine analytics, mobile and social for new triple-threat potential. Cloud allows marginal investment experiments with substantial business value. Cyber is important for risk-intelligent innovation. Pressures to deliver value persist. IT departments that aren’t seen as reliable, efficient and effective will likely be relegated to utility status.

The CIO can lead the move to tomorrow, reshaping business as usual and driving innovation. When CIOs catalyze the convergence of the postdigital forces, they can change the conversation from systems to capabilities and from technical issues to business impact. Plan big, start small, fail fast, scale appropriately.


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