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Why CIOs should be leading the digital revolution

Kenny MacIver – November 2014

Technology and business experts — from UBS CIO Oliver Bussmann to innovation designer Vito Di Bari — outline the drivers of the new industrial age.

“We are just in the early stages of the digital revolution — the second machine age. The technologies are here and we are only beginning to understand what the implications are.”

MIT professor of digital business Erik Brynjolfsson is not alone in observing that mankind is at an inflexion point that will have a profound impact on the structure of society, how work is organized, the shape of future business models, how markets operate, the distribution of wealth and more.

And he argues that CIOs will play a central role in leading that revolution. “The second machine age is a huge opportunity and a huge challenge for CXOs of all levels, especially CIOs. If they are smart they should be leading this challenge and helping other executives in the organization to understand the profound implications of the technology [change].”

Every industry will need to be rethought from the ground up, he argues. “CIOs can be the leaders of that because they understand the technology, and the good ones also understand the customer needs and the processes that need to be transformed,” he says.

Certainly some CIOs appreciate their pivotal role. “The CIO has to be in the driver’s seat, managing through this [era of] digital disruption,” says Oliver Bussmann, group CIO at UBS, the Swiss banking group.
All change

However, the scope of change is on an unprecedented scale, says Tsuneo Kawatsuma, CTO and CIO at global ICT company Fujitsu. “Everything will change in this industrial revolution. The whole set of processes — from manufacturing to market, will change,” he predicts.

A key influence on that will be The Internet of Things, the connection of billions of currently analog objects to the Internet, he suggests. “Having computers embedded in the products we use every day will bring a revolution to our lives,” says Kawatsuma.

In the same way appliances such as washing machines and irons were radically redesigned to take advantage of the invention of electricity generation, the digital revolution will demand a complete rethink of almost every kind of product category, with profound implications for existing businesses and markets.

“Everything has to be redesigned, reengineered, resold,” argues innovation designer Vito Di Bari. He sees that as nothing short of a “new economical renaissance,” one that will be driven by the CIO as someone best-placed to appreciate the nature of the revolution.

People in the C-suite need to recognize that IT is no longer about simply buying systems and software, says MIT’s Brynjolfsson: “Most of it is in the rethinking of opportunities, finding new ways to reach your customers, working with suppliers, coordinating the workforce, rethinking business processes and imagining new products and services. The creativity is almost limitless in terms of what potentially could be done. And we see winning companies as the ones that embrace these new technologies to do new things.”

First published
November 2014
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About: Big Thinkers of 2014
Insight from management gurus and business authors Seth Godin, Erik Brynjolfsson, Vito Di Bari, Martha Heller and Mark Hurst, plus CTOs and CIOs Oliver Bussmann, Harper Reed, Jeroen Tas, Tsuneo Kawatsuma and Dr Joseph Reger.
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