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How digital transformation turns CIOs into business heroes

Maxine-Laurie Marshall — January 2017
Digitalization is changing the standing of IT leaders, says Citrix CEO Kirill Tatarinov, allowing them to excel in broader business roles, yet ward off digital ownership challenges from elsewhere in the C-suite.

Digital transformation is undeniably the main driving force for change in businesses and society today. And for Kirill Tatarinov, CEO of Citrix, every organization and its executives — from small businesses to sprawling government departments — need to be actively engaged in exploiting its game-changing potential.

“The impact and opportunity is so huge there must be a call to action for everybody in business to embrace digital transformation and put it to work,” says Tatarinov, who for the past year has led enterprise software giant Citrix, whose technologies are used by over 300,000 customers worldwide to securely deliver their applications and data.

Observing a tectonic shift across all major sectors, Tatarinov cites four trends that are leading the charge for change: cloud, mobility, IoT and big data. As he says in our exclusive Big Thinker video interview: “The scope and impact of all that is absolutely phenomenal. It’s very hard to measure it in numbers, but we have already seen examples of organizations starting to work better, change their business processes and fully embrace digital transformation to be more competitive.

When a CIO understands the needs of the business and stays proactive, the role of chief digital officer doesn’t materialize.

“We are already seeing industries like healthcare being transformed with accelerating adoption of digital technologies. We’re seeing the financial sector being completely transformed at this point by the consumerization of technologies that offer the ability to engage customers in very different ways.”

But who should be responsible for driving such change? Tatarinov believes the most successful businesses today have a CEO who is the champion of digital transformation. “Ultimately the leaders of organizations are the most effective drivers of change — for them to embrace it, lead by example and be the champion of that change.” However, the CIO is now in a position to become the ‘business hero’ and drive the digital requirements coming from the top. “We see examples of the CIO essentially becoming the hero of the digital age, not only embracing the new but also connecting the old with the new and really enabling organizations to move forward,” explains Tatarinov.
CIO pulls ahead of the CDO

But in recent years, some CIOs have seen their position challenged by a rival role: that of the chief digital officer (CDO). But Tatarinov believes that threat has passed and technology leaders are proving themselves perfectly positioned to step up and take ownership of propelling the business forward. He explains: “The CDO role appears in many cases when the infrastructures and technologies deployed in organizations are aged and where the CIO is forced to spend most of their time maintaining legacy systems, leaving them very little time to embrace the new and deploy modern techniques and processes.”

In his mind, the appearance of the CDO role was an early division of labour between old and the new as digital models emerged. However, CIOs must now take ownership of both to ensure they are not locked out of future technology decisions. The advent of hybrid IT approaches is helping technologists achieve this and Tatarinov believes a CIO who can keep up with the pace of new technology adoption can stay ahead of potential CDOs encroaching on their territory. He says: “In cases where CIOs are forward-looking and connected with the business, the need for a chief digital officer diminishes. CIOs in fact play the role of CDO. It’s also the case that when a CIO stays proactive and is truly connected to, and understands, the needs of the business, the role of chief digital officer doesn’t materialize. The CIO plays that role and propels the technology innovation in that particular organization.”

But Tatarinov recognizes the scale of the challenge they face, saying that the level of complexity isn’t going away. Compounding this issue, he notes that business processes are often overlooked when technology is being rapidly applied. “In many cases the CIO needs to reach out to their business counterpart in the area where technology is going to be deployed to ensure not only that there is complete connection but also that, working together, they understand how the business will actually function in that new environment and how orchestrating business technology will produce and deliver a strong result. And that collaboration includes many parties. In many cases it’s a [four-way] collaboration between the vendor supplying technology, consultant or system integrator, the ultimate business user and the CIO.”

Digital transformation has given the CIO the chance to work with the CEO and generate valuable relationships with other members of the C-suite. Though not without its challenges, this opportunity could also see technology executives standing their ground to sustain ownership of digital decisions in the face of threats to their relevance.

  • Photography: Jason Nuttle
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About: Kirill Tatarinov
The president and CEO of Citrix since January 2016, Tatarinov is a veteran of enterprise software, having spent 13 years at Microsoft, latterly as head of its Dynamics ERP group, and 11 years at BMC Software, where he rose to become CTO. Outside of tech, Moscow-born Tatarinov is an avid skier and supporter of children’s charities.
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