MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: Blurring the Lines Between IT and Business

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MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: Blurring the Lines Between IT and Business

MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: Blurring the Lines Between IT and Business by Edward Hadley

As I shared in my first post, digital transformation was one of the big themes that emerged from this week’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. What was equally clear from the event is that digital transformation must be a shared responsibility of IT and business executives.

“Business and IT executives drive digital transformation better together than they do apart,” said George Westerman, Research Scientist for the MIT Center for Digital Business, who moderated the panel “Leading Digital: A Manifesto for IT and Business Executives.”

“Digital transformation can’t be an IT issue only,” added Mendix CEO Derek Roos. “You can’t just take existing IT and decide to go fast.”

CIOs Get Closer to the Business to Lead Digital Transformation

It was clear that the CIO role is evolving in response to the new demands of leading digital transformation. For starters, many CIOs now see themselves as business leaders, not IT leaders. As they get closer and closer to the business, end users and even customers, the historic lines between IT and business have started to fade.

“Don’t think like the business; BE the business,” encouraged Peter Nichol, head of IT for the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, who was named a finalist in the 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Awards.

MIT Sloan CIO SymposiumWhile the aspiration is clearly there, CIOs still have some work to do. Research from MIT revealed that CIOs currently spend about 40% of their time with non-IT (read: business) colleagues, a number that will undoubtedly rise going forward. Moreover, based on where they spend their time, CIOs fall into three buckets (see photo): technology-driven CIOs, business process-driven CIOs and customer-driven CIOs.

To help facilitate greater alignment and interaction with the business, many companies have taken steps to redefine the CIO role. For instance, in addition to a traditional tech-driven CIO, logistics provider DHL created a “business CIO” role that sits at the intersection of IT and the business. Led by Pablo Ciano, DHL’s Business IT organization guides the company’s technology strategy with a focus on systems convergence, service reliability and developing new capabilities to improve IT and support processes.

As Business Users Grow More Tech Savvy, IT Can Enable Them

Interestingly, at the same time that IT is getting closer to the business, the business is growing far more tech savvy, as digital literacy and programming skills become more widespread.

“Everybody is a technologist and everybody in technology is in the business,” summarized Brook Colangelo, EVP and CTO at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Christopher Perretta, EVP & CIO of State Street Corporation, used a great analogy to illustrate the democratization and distribution of digital literacy. A century ago, he said, anyone who could type was put into a separate typing pool whereas now, typing is a skill possessed by virtually every employee. IT should be the same way.

To take advantage of these skill-sets, companies must strive to create an environment where every employee is part of IT and is empowered to help innovate with digital technologies.

Roos encouraged CIOs to abandon the traditional view of IT as a centralized function. Instead, he said, they should shift from service provider to business enabler, providing tools, frameworks and best practices that allow business users to take on more digital initiatives, augmenting existing IT resources.

“It’s no longer about IT efficiency,” Roos said. “It’s about differentiating and innovating faster.”

In our next post, we’ll dive deeper into how CIOs are helping to shorten time to market for digital initiatives and increase business agility.

Author Info

Edward Hadley