CIO Playbook: IT value and the digital mindset

Adopting a digital mindset is fundamental to being a successful modern CIO. Martha Heller, a top author and CIO influencer offers valuable and practical advice for every Chief Information Officer.


The digital mindset. Photo by Michael Krigsman

CIOs face upheaval and challenge on numerous fronts. In particular, business leaders outside IT --- marketing, finance, the CEO, and others - expect the CIO to support corporate innovation in ways that fall outside the training of traditional CIOs.

The concept of digital mindset encompasses the shift from managing infrastructure to being a leader of corporate innovation. I have summarized the evolution of IT value in graphic.


Key attributes of the digital CIO mindset are presented here:


One of the most respected thinkers on the topic of digital CIO is Martha Heller, a serial author and frequent keynote speaker. Her latest book, called Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT, offers superb advice on how to make the digital CIO transition.

During an appearance on the CXOTALK series of conversations with innovators, Heller shared advice on how CIOs can thrive in a digital transformation environment.

Heller explains that the disruptive effects of digital business include:

  • Reporting hierarchies within the executive suite
  • Expectations and perceptions of the CEOs toward the CIO
  • Relationships that CIOs must develop with leadership peers and the CEO
  • New capabilities and business domain knowledge that CIOs must master

Although the traditional CIO mission focused on technology to support operations, the most successful CIOs today view digital as a business, rather than technology, strategy. Although technology and platforms are essential enablers, the underlying and most important aspects of the CIO role relate to digital as a business strategy.

The greatest obstacle is the perception that IT is about support and enablement, and not about innovation and strategy.

— Martha Heller

During our conversation, Heller expresses concern that some CIOs are at risk of becoming subordinate to the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role.

However, by embracing the appropriate skills and developing the right relationships, CIOs can take a leadership position.

The CIO has a significant advantage because this role cuts across every department and organization in a company. For this reason, CIOs possess the natural opportunity to lead digital.

Digital is a capability that companies need to adopt across all their businesses and all their functions. CIOs who understand their roles as critical capabilities champions have a uniquely end-to-end view and can see pockets of digital innovation, which business leaders are spending on digital technologies and which aren't.

The video embedded above is a short summary of my conversation with Martha Heller. You can watch the complete, 45-minute discussion and read the entire transcript at the CXOTALK site.

Please see the list of upcoming CXOTALK episodes. Thank you to my colleague, Lisbeth Shaw, for assistance with this post.