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A CIO’s Guide to a Successful Digital Transformation

By: Ryan Douglas
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This article was originally published in CIO Dive.

The business landscape is more competitive and complex than ever before. Whether a healthcare provider conducting real-time diagnostics or an e-commerce provider fulfilling a transaction, the on-demand experience is now ingrained in today’s culture.Regardless of industry, digital marketplaces and technology companies are aggressively attempting to fulfill consumer demands through immediate access to goods and services.

In turn, businesses are approaching a pivotal moment where big-box, legacy IT solutions are no longer the answer to today’s enterprise challenges.The advent of the public cloud has changed the way enterprises think about infrastructure, and as a result, has changed the role of the IT department within many organizations.

Businesses must strive to be more agile and responsive to customers’ needs by offering “best of breed” solutions catered to individual and specific requirements.The result of digital transformation to public cloud infrastructure will bring about many benefits, including relatively unbound scalability, enhanced security beyond standard compliance and increased application reliability.

So where should CIOs begin?

Adopting a bimodal IT approach

When undertaking a digital transformation, it is important to operate with a bimodal philosophy. Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two modes of IT delivery — one focused on stability and the other on agility.

“Mode 1” is traditional and sequential, emphasizing a waterfall process and strict segmentation of teams’ physical, back-end and legacy IT systems. “Mode 2” is agile and nonlinear, emphasizing empowerment and speed of delivery. This new mode is rooted in parts of IT that are modern, experimental and directly impact the consumer experience like the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The bimodal philosophy enables organizations to quickly transform to reach a new set of customers while still supporting existing clientele. As a company evolves, the adoption of bimodal IT will be critical for supporting long-standing business relationships while also developing new customers. In most cases, bimodal transitions continue until digital transformation is fully adopted.

Taking a consultative role

The traditional CIO that serves in a reactive and segmented role also must undergo a transformation and serve in a more consultative way. In this “new” role, CIOs develop processes for deployments, build security expertise and help the business understand the impacts associated with the transformation.

Before the public cloud, IT leaders held the keys to any and all infrastructure changes. They owned primary responsibility for building, managing and maintaining all corporate infrastructure. Now, with the accessibility and relative ease of use of the public cloud, business and development organizations can create and manage infrastructure without following traditional IT processes.

Instead, they are agile and interact with infrastructure directly at an accelerated pace. The proliferation of other modern application technologies like AI and ML within IT are poised to provide many benefits and time-saving opportunities, but will still require IT expertise to implement effectively.

It is important for CIOs to expand into higher-value areas and maintain a close relationship with other C-level executives to have a seat at the table. Those that don’t take this evolution seriously will lose influence within the company. Indeed, public cloud infrastructure brings opportunities for CIOs to share responsibilities for infrastructure budgets, managing them in tandem with IT and department leaders.

Finding the right talent

Another key to a successful transformation is having the right team to lean on throughout the process. During a digital transformation, it is necessary to focus on revising practices, objectives and skillsets while also bringing new talent onboard to fill any gaps.

A CIO should develop a philosophy for what is needed in a great IT employee — one that has the technical capability along with the right, modern experience. What this means is every IT function — from creating and managing infrastructure to managing corporate systems — is based on writing and supporting code.

The ability to write software is now a prerequisite to work in IT. This requirement leads to a number of new jobs, including cloud engineering, DevOps engineering, and even software engineering — all organizations that reside in IT. In fact, even traditional disciplines such as information security, network and storage administration are moving to software development roles.

Future IT organizations will align closer to traditional software engineering teams and fit better into the product development process. It’s very important to have a team that is agile and able to pivot in the event of unforeseen circumstances, while ensuring the demands of internal and external stakeholders are still met.

This is concurrent with the CIO’s typical responsibilities of supporting IT infrastructure, following security/compliance regulations, and ensuring business application availability and performance. To make any digital transformation possible, it is critically important to develop a nimble, collaborative and technology-savvy workplace.

By developing new processes and procedures and laying down the groundwork within the IT department, CIOs can help ensure new applications will be embraced as they take center stage and successfully position enterprises and their customers long into the future.