How CIOs can up their digital game from vision to execution

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A growing number of organizations are now involved in some level of digital transformation, which is making the job of chief information officer more challenging than ever. But for those organizations that are still merely “planning” such an effort, the competitive battle may already be lost.

At the upcoming MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, to be held May 23 in Cambridge, Mass., IT leaders will get help shaping their digital vision and executing on their strategies. Among the emerging and evolving technologies that will be discussed are artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, blockchain and cloud computing.

Information Management spoke with Lindsey Anderson, conference chair for this year’s event, on what IT leaders can expect.

Information Management: The annual CIO Symposium is always a great opportunity for IT and business leaders to network and to get updates on the topics and technologies that are most on their minds. What is the theme of this year’s event?

Lindsey Anderson: This year’s theme is “Up Your Digital Game from Vision to Execution;” it is NOT “start planning” your digital game. The time for merely thinking about digital has passed; the future belongs to the doers.

Successful enterprises have embraced digital and are continuously redefining their vision and improving their execution. Several reports indicate that the gap is widening between companies that have advanced digital capabilities and those that do not. It’s getting late for companies that haven’t started their digital transformation to catch-up.

This year’s focus is on helping companies improve their digital capabilities and business models.

IM: The top technology buzzword for 2017 seems to have been ‘big data.’ For 2018, it’s all things related to ‘artificial intelligence.’ How will emerging and evolving technologies such as AI, big data, blockchain, the IoT and cloud computing shape the agenda for this year’s event?

Anderson: Emerging and evolving technologies will always help shape the Symposium’s agenda because they impact and redefine the enterprise of the future. Our goal is to help CIOs and other senior executives plan for and direct that future.

I think the needs of CIOs differ between emerging and evolving technologies and the Symposium reflects this. For emerging technologies like blockchain, where there is uncertainty whether the technology will be beneficial, CIOs need to determine if the technology has potential application within their organization and if so how to best invest in experimentation. The Symposium will help senior executives evaluate this kind technology by learning from enterprises that are already adopting it.

For evolving technologies, like AI, where the theoretical benefit to the enterprise is clearer but the practical implementation is often still fuzzy, CIOs need to find ways to build simple solutions now to bring the technology into better focus within their organization so that they can lay the groundwork for high-impact implementations down the road. At the Symposium, CIOs will learn from their peers how they are successfully implementing evolving technologies like AI.

However, the Symposium is never just about technology. Since we are affiliated with the MIT Sloan School of Management, our emphasis is on driving business value through technology. Technology is a means to an end and not an end in itself

IM: If you could characterize just one thing that attendees to this year’s event will be looking for help with regarding their technology or digital strategies, what would you say that is?

Anderson: It is vision and execution because both are crucial to thriving in our digital economy. If you don’t have a clear vision you won’t be able to implement it—and if you aren’t able to execute, your digital transformation will not be successful.

Digital transformations are extremely hard to do; a recent McKinsey study indicates that 74% fail. Our objective this year is to give attendees the insights they need into both vision and execution to improve their odds for a successful transformation.

IM: As you have heard from individuals interested in the Symposium and what will be offered, what topics, questions or challenges have surprised you the most?

Every year I am amazed by how our MIT Sloan Leadership Award finalists deliver exemplary levels of business value through their innovative use of IT.

For example, Michael Niles helped transform a 100-year-old elevator company, Schindler, into a digital enterprise through predictive analytics and smart phone technology that enables office workers to board the elevator that will take them directly to their floor without any stops.

David Neitz of CDM Smith shaved millions of dollars off the cost of dams, power plants and other large construction projects through the use of holographic technology. Holograms enabled CDM Smith and its clients to identify flaws and enhancement in a project before any cement was poured.

David Gledhill used AI and other technologies at DBS to establish branchless banking in India and other developing countries.

IM: What would you say that attendees to this year’s event will be able to take away in terms of strategies and best practices that will aid them in their own digital transformation efforts?

Anderson: These are some of the topics that will help attendees succeed in their digital transformations:

  • Formulate a vision that is inspired by both existing organizational competencies and the capabilities of digital technologies.
  • Create cultures that can compete with—and surpass—digital native companies.
  • Identify four distinct business models helping firms clarify where they stand in the digital business landscape.
  • Connect strategic priorities to the realities of execution.
  • Think differently about the workspace, technologies, social networks, and management practices to realize the value.
  • Explore the future of work in a world of AI, machine learning and automation.
  • Realize synergies from digital innovations.
  • Map the future of the IT unit.
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