How CIOs can stay relevant in a changing digital landscape
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How CIOs can stay relevant in a changing digital landscape

Clare Simmons – August 2015
IT leaders need to undergo a transformation if theyre to retain a seat at the management board table, says Andy Caddy, group CIO of Virgin Active, the worlds largest international health club chain.
 VA CIO AndyCaddy E

Once a blind spot for most of the business, IT is now firmly on the management board agenda, largely thanks to the challenges and opportunities presented by digital disruption. But that wider engagement with IT by business leadership means that, by some estimates, more than a third of IT budgets are now outside the direct control of the technology team, with business lines such as finance and sales increasingly managing their own IT agendas and projects.


For some CIOs, such as Andy Caddy of Virgin Active, the world’s largest international health club chain, thats a good thing. Indeed, rather than the encroachment of ‘shadow IT, he sees it more as ‘enlightened IT.As he points out, there are good reasons the business has gone and done its own thing – chiefly, because [the CIO] didnt or couldnt do it for them.

As a result, if CIOs are to retain (or claim) a seat at the leadership table, they need to re-affirm their relevance to the business and start reporting directly to the CEO.
Chief transformation officer

To make this relevance explicit CIOs need to embrace the lean IT model, advises Caddy. IT departments have traditionally centered on the day-to-day running of IT; in contrast, lean IT enables the CIO to focus on how digital can be used to transform the business and deliver strategic objectives, rather than merely delivering technical competency.

Overhauling the way the IT team is constituted and run presents one of the CIOs biggest challenges, says Caddy. Changing people is much more difficult than changing systems, he argues, and the impact needs to be felt across training, development and recruitment. With Virgin Active now a year into its transformation journey, the focus is on ensuring that the IT agenda is all about enabling success through the application of digital.

Part of that transformation involves connected health clubs that manage the relationship with members at each stage of their development. Digital tools can engage with members more effectively, he says, not just to track and report on fitness levels and provide advise to members, but to spot waivering commitments and dissuade members from quitting.


Caddy pinpoints three key attributes of the modern digital leader that needs to lead this transformation of IT:

1. Master of business change
Almost every change to the business requires technology/digital input, which naturally puts the CIO at the center of its evolution. No one else has that privilege, says Caddy, so change management, engagement and training should all become top priorities for the CIO.

2. Expert relationship management
In this new digital environment, everyone across the business should be looking to the CIO. So the CIO needs to be a brilliant relationship manager. If CIOs dont take advantage of this unique opportunity, the business will simply go around you.

3. Agile leadership
Faced with continuous change, the business can no longer think longterm — and nor should the IT team. Rather than setting five-year strategies, IT needs to be iterative and quick to adapt. In the past, weve often been burdened with big, failed IT projects. But by trying things out on a small scale you can learn much more quickly and iterate, spotting and reacting to trends.
Power shift

One of Caddys influences, business strategist Dion Hinchcliffe, has written extensively about the changing role of the CIO, and his depiction of the shift in power values aligns with Caddys view of ITs new priorities. An emphasis on centralized power and exclusivity is being replaced by a focus on relationships and collaboration; governance is being superseded by transparency; a loyalty to specific vendors is being transposed by a focus on value-centric relationships; and standardization is being replaced by a customer-led approach.

So where does this leave the CIO? Caddy acknowledges the widespread debate around the definition of CIO. Are we chief innovation officers, chief digital officers, or perhaps chief data officers?” he says. How about chief engagement officers or even chief change officers? For Caddy, the roles meaning is abundantly clear – in order to survive and lead in this new digital landscape, the CIO has to become chief smarter, better, faster” officer.
First published August 2015
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