Motassim Thupsee, an IT Principal System Administrator, shares his thoughts on how digital leaders need to operate within the brave new world we find ourselves in.

With a recent report suggesting that four out of ten industry officials across a broad range of sectors could be moved by digital disruption over the next five years, many organisations are fast approaching becoming ‘digital dinosaurs’ due to their inability to adapt.

No industry, no organisation is resistant from the threat of being disrupted. 40 per cent of jobs could be replaced by digital technology over the next two decades. Changing digitally is the number one business challenge facing organisations today. Staying relevant in a digital world is the number one personal challenge we are all currently facing. As a consequence, a new class of senior executive is required...

What is digital leadership?

Digital leadership is the ability to create and interconnect a vision for one’s company, while digital management is the ability to manage people, processes and technology in order to execute the approach.

Digital business leaders are leaders who can combine high level business knowledge, experience and understanding with the ability to develop digital transformation strategies fully aligned with and supportive of agreed business goals and objectives. They are leaders who possess both the self-confidence and personal skills to drive digital-led organisational change.

The forecast

The integration of mobile connectivity, social media, enterprise social, the cloud, internet of things and computerisation, combined with the rapid occurrence of a new generation of constantly connected customers and employees is threatening to restructure markets faster than any force in history. It holds the potential of transforming everything from banking to government to our own personal identities.

Soon, connected devices around the planet will sense a whole range of features about the globe to help us better understand and improve the world around us. Our ability to influence this wealth of data will determine how much we can accomplish in the coming years. We might also face the challenge of ensuring that everyone can access the benefits of our digital society.

It’s hard to forecast the speed of these changes, but we know that our emerging digital economy will require enhanced focus on trust, privacy and transparency. As people continue to share, collaborate and interconnect online, these issues will continue to grow.

Being equipped with the right skills to undertake operational roles can be enhanced with a clear understanding of cybercrime, cybersecurity and social media and most importantly how these fit together.

The challenge

The situation for today’s CIOs, given the overlap of digital and new technology, seems to be that CIOs have a head start when it comes to digital leadership. In objectivity, too many CIOs were not recruited to be digital leaders. The operational demands of technology management often leave little time to reflect about the broader business.

Cybercrime diagram - three pillars of our interconnected world

Whether your current IT leadership role is primarily operational or not, below are 10 key actions CIOs can take to evaluate their own digital leadership.

  1. Think customer first. Some IT functions believe they are operating at an enhanced level of service when they’re keeping employees happy. This is not a bad thing, but the real goal is to keep the customer happy, even if that requires a little employee unhappiness at times. Demonstrate your leadership by ensuring that all IT initiatives and services will be designed and delivered with the customer experience at the top of the mind.
  2. Treat your career like a lean startup. We have to be flexible and responsive and try to anticipate as well as follow the market, despite not knowing where that might take us. Your strategic relevance to your organisation depends on you acquiring skills that reflect the evolving nature of the CIO’s role. Being comfortable with uncertainty and ever-moving goals is critical to the leadership mind-set required in the digital economy.
  3. Forge deep relationships with the leadership. It is tempting, as a technology manager, to keep away from the boardroom until you are summoned. Such occasions invariably involve a request to deliver more and better services for less. Take the time to grow your strategic relationships. A basis of trust and goodwill can work in your favour when things don’t go according to plan.
  4. Be a business leader first. To be taken seriously as a business leader, you must present yourself as a business leader. If you are to sit at the CEO’s table, you may have to support decisions that are not always in the best interests of the IT department. Your ability to be unflustered in this respect will show that your focus is primarily aligned with the welfare and greater good of the business.
  5. Demonstrate business value. While key performance indicators (KPIs) such as uptime or transactions per hour are operationally important, your contribution to business value will be determined by the extent to which you align your KPIs with those of the CEO. If you are not up to speed on important metrics, you will not be perceived as a serious team member.
  6. Remember: The goalposts are always moving; hence you will need to manage your personal career development accordingly. Similarly, our careers will wither if we do not stretch ourselves skills-wise. Learning is not an inoculation administered a few times over a lifetime.
  7. Be passionate. Demonstrate passion for your work, for your team, and for the business. As a leader, your passion, or lack of passion, will set the tone for your department and thus the perception of the overall service you are providing.
  8. Take on more. Take on more responsibility. Prove or tweak your leadership skills by, for example, assuming the general manager role for one of the smaller business units. If you find that you are too hands-on to do anything else, it may be possible that delegating is a skill you wish to hone.
  9. Build your brand and that of your IT team. The previous actions are mostly about managing people’s perception about you. Your brand is your number-one asset. Your IT department’s brand is part of your brand. Actively work on evolving both.
  10. Make your people successful. If you focus primarily on developing your people, you’ll find that your brand value will increase in turn. Leaders can exist only if they have followers. Inspire your people to follow you by aligning their best interests with those of the organisation.

The digital economy provides the perfect conditions for the CIO, being those closest to the technology to become digital leaders. Ultimately, digital leadership is a competency that all leaders will require. But today, the majority still don’t possess it. If CIOs carry out these 10 key actions, they will increase their chances of taking their organisations further in the digital economy.

Motassim Thupsee is currently working as an IT Principal System Administrator and has more than 18 years of experience working in IT.