Dream team.

Successful digital transformation is good for business. Organizations whose tech-enabled transformations exceed their forecast goals demonstrate higher average revenue growth than organizations whose efforts are falling short of expectations, according to a study by Ernst & Young LLP.

Turning investments into positive business outcomes doesn’t always follow a straight line. CIOs leading these efforts must navigate a changing business landscape and a variety of business stakeholders with different agendas. CIOs may find themselves paired up with chief digital officers (CDOs), who are often given a remit to define, incubate and deploy innovative digital initiatives.

Technology leadership is becoming less about titles and organizational structures and more about aligning across the business to match technology needs with business outcomes.

“The CDO and CIO roles are converging because the role of technology itself has been elevated,” said Carlton Joiner, Partner, Technology Consulting, Ernst & Young LLP. “These individuals are becoming more business-oriented and entrepreneurial, and they’re strategically thinking like a CEO or COO [chief operating officer].”

That means the senior technology leader’s shifting role – regardless of whether their title is CIO, CDO or something else – now involves integrating business and technology strategies.

“CIOs have asked for a seat at the table,” Joiner said. “Now that they have it, they need something to say. The most successful individuals are the ones with the acumen to articulate a compelling vision to the rest of the organization.”

Joiner sees technology “thought leaders” defined by four key attributes:

  1. Business model thinkers: “Business model thinkers consider the art of the possible,” Joiner said. “They understand the role of technology in their company’s business and industry, as well as adjacent industries, to provide broader context around the impact of technology on business and revenue growth.”
  2. Experience designers: Technology leaders need to think about their end users – for example, customers, employees and partners – and work backwards to design experiences that help them do things more easily and efficiently. To do this successfully requires deeper functional domain expertise in areas like sales and marketing, supply chain, customer service and finance.
  3. Relationship builders: Alignment across the business relies heavily on the relationships that technology leaders can build with their C-suite colleagues. “It’s a consulting and translator mindset,” Joiner said. “They need the ability to speak about technology in business language and then act as the translator to turn business objectives into tech-enablement solutions.” When done well, the result is “shared accountability” across the C-suite and a sense of “co-investment” in technology-enabled outcomes.
  4. Ecosystem thinkers: Organizations can no longer do everything in house and are relying more heavily on strategic partners for a variety of tools, services and expertise. Technology leaders need to understand the role that external partners can play in delivering outcomes, then define and execute on a clear buy vs. build strategy to drive end-to-end delivery of services and capabilities to meet business objectives.

Building your digital foundation

These attributes are the start of your digital dream team. Organizations should build on them by developing leaders at all levels, including:

  • CxO leadership: senior-most business and technology strategists
  • Portfolio leadership: deep technologists who can help create a sustainable technology stack that moves at speed using services such as hybrid cloud, microservices and automation
  • Delivery leadership: people with deep experience driving large-scale systems development and integration

“The idea is to grow more leaders with the right attributes to succeed in this new world where technology is at the center of business,” Joiner said.

It may take a few years for this dream team to come to fruition. But once it does, this new generation of leaders will be able to rapidly identify and translate trends into actionable business strategy.

“At the end of the day,” said Joiner, “success depends on increased collaboration among the technology organization, business unit leaders and functional leaders so that you’re infusing technology into everything you do.”

Explore more insights on the evolution of technology leaders and their agendas.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.