How to make IT great again

May 15, 2017
  • IT
  • automotive
  • chemicals

Do you remember Nicolas Carr’s notorious article called ‘IT Doesn’t Matter’ which was published in the Harvard Business Review in 2003? Carr stated that IT was no longer a competitive differentiator and should therefore be treated as a commodity. He believed companies had overrated the strategic value of IT and urged them to spend less on it, both to reduce their costs and to decrease their risk of buying soon-to-be-obsolete equipment and applications.

A wake-up call to CIOs to reinvent themselves

It was a clear wake-up call to CIOs to reinvent themselves and to make a real difference by focusing on value-add for the business. The concept of ‘Business-IT fusion’ was introduced to indicate that alignment was no longer sufficient and new IT capabilities and new relationships with the business had to be built. Does this ring any bells?

The rise of another new CIO

Today, almost 15 years later, the role of IT is once more being challenged on multiple levels. Business users are increasingly bypassing IT when signing up for plug-and-play cloud solutions, and chief digital officers (CDOs) – often with a much more multifaceted profile than CIOs – are causing people to question the CIO’s position on the organizational chart.

Is this just history repeating itself by pushing IT from one steady state into another? Personally, I believe there is more to it than that. The pace of change is increasing all the time. Organizations must constantly adapt to change, and so too must CIOs if they want to safeguard their role in the organization’s digital transformation.

3 transformational challenges

So what should IT’s new role be all about? I see three main transformations that IT departments need to go through: 

First of all, IT should become the quintessential expert in digital trends, continuously scanning the digital horizon for new trends which can be useful for the business. Surely not for the sake of technology in itself, this expertise should lead to proofs of concept that determine the actual potential for the business. This expertise can only be successful if the CIO is able to market these ideas and the capabilities of IT to deliver.

Besides that, IT needs to develop a bimodal approach in which it is managed in two parallel yet clearly distinct modes: one focused on exploitation and predictability and the other focused on exploration and agility. This requires a whole new, layered and cloud-based architecture and new solutions for integration and security (e.g. GDPR). Once these digital experiments (e.g. with augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things or blockchain technology) have proven their added value for the business, they must be translated into new products and integrated into the current IT landscape. Furthermore, the CIO should make sure they are really adopted and delivering value.

And, last but not least, CIOs should manifestly position themselves as their organization’s CDO. They must demonstrate a very business-minded attitude and a clear understanding of the value the company wants to create.


From my conversations with IT managers, I know that awareness about the CIO’s new role in the digital economy is growing. CIOs already are in a unique position, overlooking the complete value chain, now they should become aware of the holistic challenges digital transformation brings and align systems, people and processes.

How to build a high-performing digital enterprise it's pillars

Does IT matter?

Now is the time to prepare for this next step, which consists of even more closely connecting with the business, developing new capabilities and skills and eliminating any barriers that may hamper digital innovation. In many cases that means introducing more participative leadership and flexibility into the organization, allowing for more collaboration and open innovation.

Therein lies a big opportunity for CIOs to take the lead in developing a true digital transformation strategy for the company, making them more relevant than ever before.

So does IT matter? Yes, it does!