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Rewriting the handbook for digital leadership

Maxine-Laurie Marshall — November 2017
Jay Crotts CIO of Shell, DHL Supply Chain’s CIO Markus Voss, the former CEO of Citrix and business school professor Rita McGrath discuss the changing nature of IT leadership.

The IT function is in a strong position. It’s no longer merely a back-end function used to automate and bring efficiency to key elements of the business. “What used to be [a business unit] focused on driving down cost has evolved into the growth agenda. It has extended its role into the business and is seen as a source of new business models,” explains Markus Voss, CIO for Deutsche Post DHL’s Supply Chain organization.

Support for this more strategic role of the IT group is coming right from the top of many organizations. Kirill Tatarinov, the former CEO of office productivity software company Citrix, sees a clear link between the business opportunities afforded by digital transformation and the importance of the CIO’s role in maximizing the benefits. “CIOs are becoming the drivers — essentially, the heroes — of the digital age, not only by embracing the new but also connecting the old with the new and really enabling organizations to move forward,” he says.

This ability to evolve beyond legacy IT systems and embrace a hybrid approach, where new and old run side by side, is one of the biggest challenges to come from digital transformation projects. Indeed, by only sticking to their traditional remit, CIOs are in danger of making themselves obsolete.

“When you get more excited about the business outcome than the technology, you’re the right IT professional to be working with that business.”

As Rita McGrath, strategy and innovation professor at New York City’s Columbia Business School, says: “The whole concept of having a CIO is starting to feel a little old in the traditional sense of [someone who] sets the security rules, ‘keeps the lights on’ and runs things for the lowest cost.”

Tatarinov echoes this by emphasizing that CIOs who do not take the responsibility of driving new business models and embracing advanced technologies face the prospect of being usurped by a chief digital officer. However, he explains, “where CIOs are forward-looking and connected with the business, the need for a chief digital officer diminishes. The CIO plays that role and propels the technology innovation in that particular organization.”

Someone who is grasping that opportunity is Shell’s group CIO Jay Crotts, who argues that IT executives must always be curious and looking to find the next generation of technology to solve the business problem. The caveat is that for IT to gain any traction in these new roles and responsibilities the business must also be on board — and that comes through IT professionals adopting a business persona, Crotts says.

“It’s one of the hardest challenges for IT professionals. Do you get more excited about the business outcome than the technology you’re bringing? When you get more excited about the business outcome, you’re the right IT professional to be working with that business.”
First published
November 2017
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About: Big Thinkers of 2017
Insights from CIOs Jay Crotts of Shell and Markus Voss of Deutsche Post DHL's Supply Chain group, the former CEO of Citrix Kirill Tatarinov, academics Rita McGrath of Columbia Business School and Franz Josef Radermacher of the University of Ulm and head of data science at the ICR Bissan Al-Lazikani.

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