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Interview: What is the role of the CIO in digital transformation?

Martin Vitouš has been working in IT for almost 30 years. During that time he’s been through just about everything IT has to offer. His goal is always for customers and trainees to take away something that will help them and that makes sense.
Jan Skrabanek

30. 8. 2022

What does digital transformation mean from your perspective?

There are many definitions of what digital transformation might be. Personally, I best like the definition by Greg Verdino, “Digital transformation closes the gap between what digital customers already expect and what analog businesses actually deliver.” Digital technologies are all around us. The younger generation is growing up with them and sees them as an integral part of life. That is of course, what they expect from their service and product suppliers. New companies with this focus are already springing up (e.g. Spotify). But what about the old and established companies? They have to go through their digital transformation. It is about taking advantage of the possibilities of new technologies to create new business models and innovative products that could not exist at all without them. If they miss this chance, quite possibly in 5-10 years they won’t be around anymore. The outcome of digital transformation can be not only the introduction of new technology but the improvement of everything around it.

What is key in digital transformation?

As I mentioned, the goal of digital transformation is not to introduce new technologies, but to improve everything around it (the business model, product and service innovation, the approach to customers, …). From this point of view, I think the most important thing is to interconnect IT with the rest of the organization. Without this connection, without communication, and without the partnership of two equal parties, the transformation will never happen. Yet such interconnection will not happen without changing the attitudes of both parties, communication styles, mutual trust, transparency, and alignment of goals. These are all elements of the corporate culture. And unfortunately, you can’t change that overnight. It takes a long-term goal and a clear way forward to achieve that goal. And this can be a problem in today’s hurried times, unfortunately. We often look for quick results, and what will happen down the road in a year or two is no longer on the agenda. That’s a mistake.

How has COVID-19 affected digital transformation?

From my perspective, COVID19 is neither a reason for digital transformation nor a key trigger for it. COVID19 is just a catalyst accelerating what has been going on around us for several years. If you look at how individual companies are managing 2020, it is very easy to see which companies have paid attention to digital transformation before now and which have not. And the difference is only going to get bigger. Perhaps we can say that COVID19 is the last wake-up call for those who were still enjoying sweet dreams. But again, digital transformation is not about learning how to use tools like Zoom or MS Teams.

What role does IT play in digital transformation? What is the role of the CIO?

First of all, it’s worth saying that IT departments come in different forms. They range from a small internal IT to a shared services competency center for the entire corporation or an external company that provides IT services. In any case, the IT department must not be a sticking point for the organization. We cannot afford to have a situation where the organization needs a new mobile application or to set up remote access for staff working from home, and the IT department responds by saying it will take half a year. So, we have to interconnect IT with the rest of the organization and remove as many barriers as possible that stand in the way of fast and flexible delivery of IT services. And this brings us once again to change the culture. In this case, things may get even more complicated because IT specialists will have to learn to perceive what they are doing through the eyes of the user and the customer. And that is definitely not easy. The more remote they are physically and logically from their users, the harder it will be. The CIO (IT manager, IT director, …) can no longer be just the ‘longest-serving technician’. It’s precisely the CIO who will change the mindset of IT specialists about what they are doing, but also on what the rest of the organization is doing. It will require a completely different set of skills, and most importantly, it will require a proactive approach. There aren’t too many such people in the labor market.

Any specific examples, and your experience with digital transformation?

One example speaks volumes: A company supplying larger technological units. Their deliverable also includes technical documentation, instructions, and procedures. The company has created a system for circulating and completing the documents in the company, in-house. No one was happy with the system. One department blamed another. As part of the transformation, we managed to interconnect the in-house teams of developers, administrators, process specialists, and technologists. Thanks to this, the shortcomings were progressively eliminated and the time to complete the documentation for the customer was halved. This led to fewer complaints and greater customer satisfaction. A new service is now being prepared, where the customer can view or download the documentation online and at the same time the system keeps an eye on the expiration dates (e.g. revisions, or service contracts). This saves time and resources, and the customer is happy to cover the cost.