By the end of 2017, two-thirds of the CEOs of Global 2000 companies will have digital transformation at the center of their corporate strategy, according to research from IDC. It’s a big job.

The word “transformation” denotes holistic, essence-altering change - there are not many who can argue with that definition. “Digital,” as it turns out, is a little harder to describe. A PwC survey revealed that connotations are broad, ranging from “customer-facing tech only” to “anything related to data and analytics.” Regardless, people generally think the CIO title is synonymous with “technology savant.”

I am living proof that the job description is changing, along with the responsibilities of the CIO.

When faced with the task of altering the entire digital infrastructure of an organization, CIOs should adopt a mission-oriented mindset. Enacting transformational change across an entire organization requires a leader capable of engaging all departments. The ability to see the entire forest without getting hung up on each individual tree is essential to getting the job done. This perspective lends itself to an operational, rather than technological approach.

My previous experience made me an unlikely candidate to lead a mid-sized city’s digital transformation efforts, if you still believe that a CIO’s day-to-day responsibilities are tech-saturated. But if “change management officer” is the new “chief information officer,” I may be a better fit. From February 2016 to February 2017, I was deployed with the US Navy; my third deployment overseas. That deployment, coupled with my nearly 12 years of service between active duty and reserve military service have provided me unique perspectives on how to facilitate change at an operational level to get the job done.

When I returned home to the City of Fishers, Mayor Scott Fadness asked me to lead the city’s three year technological modernization project. This would involve sifting through our existing software and processes, building out a team and developing our own internal business rules, while generally wrapping my head around the myriad existing operations, goals, and opportunities within all of our City departments.

Again, I had to approach the project from the treetops rather than at ground level. Maintaining an aerial view, I’ve been able to identify the steps needed to succeed. Below are four essential items for your strategy when embarking on a mission to transform the technological foundation of your organization.

  1. Create a team. For a project that spans 36 months or more, you cannot expect to get the job done without building out a team solely dedicated to the task at hand. At the City of Fishers, we created a hybrid team of tech services consultants and full time city employees. Just like building out a department, each member of the team has differing roles and responsibilities.
  2. Identify your “pillars.” Before we started the project, we identified six functions that serve as “pillars” of our organization. These include: Land, Assets, Finance, People, Public Safety and Management/Collaboration. The pillars will be different for every company, but the process of categorizing your business's digital makeup both externally (facing prospects, clients, customers, etc.) and internally (facing employees, partners, donors and all other stakeholders) is essential to building out your action plan.
  3. Focus on data. Our organization is full of smart, experienced people. One of the overarching goals of the digital transformation project is to become more data-driven in our decision making. We continually ask ourselves the following question: “How do we obtain good, consistent, data that doesn’t require all of our staff’s time collecting or inputting into various systems or forms?” Our people should spend their time interpreting data instead of collecting it themselves. We want to provide clean data for data-driven decision making to continually improve effectiveness and efficiency.
  4. Be flexible and safe. Technology is changing every day. Failure is imminent if you put a mark on the wall and blindly peruse it. With the constant shifts, however, you can remain steadfast in your pursuit of eliminating waste - wasted time, effort, paper, etc. Lessons learned are valuable, and I’ve certainly accrued my fair share during this digital transformation journey and know there are more to come. Additionally, the importance of security cannot be understated. There is a certain level of risk-taking associated with a modernization initiative, but that shouldn’t be confused with being reckless. It’s possible to be smart and entrepreneurial, but also secure.

At the center of any digital transformation initiative, whether you’re leading the charge at a Fortune 500 company or a city government is change. To effectively lead a team assigned to the project, CIOs must embody the idea that effective change can only occur with the right strategy to guide it.

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