Should the tasks of digital transformation and innovation initiatives be bifurcated within IT? Claire Rutkowski gives her take on the capacity of the CIO role, and how digital leaders can equip their team to navigate constant change.
Chicago-based Rutkowski is senior vice president and CIO champion at Bentley Systems, an infrastructure engineering software company headquartered in Singapore. She joined Bentley in 2016 from MWH, where she served as CIO, responsible for delivering IT strategy, services and support to 7,000 engineering professionals globally.
At Bentley, Rutkowski led the global IT organization, shaping and delivering a technology agenda across Bentley’s business. Rutkowski recently augmented her role to include serving as the company’s CIO champion, using her extensive engineering background to advocate for CxOs at engineering firms and serve as a bridge between Bentley and its engineering accounts.
Many CIOs are being asked to lead digital transformation and innovation initiatives as well. Are you equipped for the challenge, or should these be separate roles?
While digital transformation has been a hot topic for the last few years, the reality is that CIOs have been driving change through their organizations since the advent of computers, networks and cell phones. Since CIOs have been executing initiatives to drive innovation and transformation for decades, I believe we are well-equipped for the challenge.
When the pandemic hit and the nature of work changed overnight for many, CIOs rose to the occasion and facilitated work from home, new ways of doing business and entirely new lines of business. That was truly transformational. So yes, CIOs are perfectly capable of leading digital transformation and innovation initiatives.
In some cases, however, a case could be made for bifurcating the role, but only when there is a clear difference in focus, audience and outcomes, such as if a traditional brick-and-mortar company wants to develop and offer Software-as-a-Service. In that case, if the CIO has no interest in development or revenue generation, and cannot give it the time it deserves, I argue that the role is better bifurcated, bearing in mind that whoever takes on the new role would have to work closely with the CIO anyway.
How is AI changing the role and responsibilities of CIOs and other IT professionals?
Artificial intelligence, and particularly generative AI, has accelerated the pace of technological change for many organizations. Generative AI makes it easier for people to code, share data and gain insights on that data, and do amazingly cool things, which improve their jobs and hopefully improve outcomes for the company. AI can automate many mundane tasks, freeing people to work on more value-added activities.
All this sounds great, but AI has made CIOs and other IT professionals’ jobs harder in many ways. Expectations from other executives to deliver automation and efficiency quickly have increased. People see ads for new AI-driven functionality and want it now.
Internal cybersecurity risks have also increased. Despite warnings not to do so, it’s easy for employees to share company data in ChatGPT or a similar tool to gain insight, create a memo, compose an email or summarize a document. Team members can also create and sometimes use AI-generated code with unintended consequences. And externally, of course, cybersecurity risks have increased as hackers leverage AI to deep fake peoples’ voices and increase the complexity of their attacks.
CIOs and IT professionals now need to play defense and offense at an accelerated pace, while trying to keep their teams up to speed and not allow too much distraction. From a defensive posture, effective governance is important to keep transformation happening, but at a controllable, manageable pace, and effective education and cybersecurity programs must be in place so people understand what they can and should—or should not—do.
At the same time, CIOs and digital leaders need to lean into the changes and identify responsible applications of AI and other new technologies to create real business impact and differentiation for their companies.
What are some tools CIOs and other IT professionals can use to stay current when everything is constantly changing?
There are so many resources available to help CIOs and other IT professionals stay on top of technology trends. The hardest part is setting aside time for continuous learning and education. It must be intentional and part of your job. Once you have made that commitment to yourself, the rest is easy.
Podcasts, YouTube channels, industry publications, memberships in industry organizations and forums, LinkedIn, and newsletters are all great ways to stay current with trends. Amazon Web Services just launched a Generative AI for Executives course. There are all sorts of ways to keep up—but again, it must be purposeful, and you must make the time.
How can a digital leader best equip their teams for the barrage of changes upon them?
An environment of constant change creates a lot of anxiety. People worry about whether their jobs are going away and how they can possibly keep up. This can lead to being overwhelmed and burnout, which results in reduced productivity and unhappy, disengaged colleagues.
Applying traditional change management techniques won’t work anymore, because change is not an event to prepare for, communicate and work through. It has become an ever-present continuous reality that never ends.
Digital leaders need an entirely new skill set. They need to learn how to create resiliency in their teams. At a high level, this means creating trust and respect by being genuine and authentic. It means being a good coach who is consistently and visibly positive—or having the self-awareness to not be overly visible if you’re not feeling positive.
It means being straight with people and being consistent. It also means articulating the strategy and vision over and over, so that when changes do happen, people can put them into the context of the roadmap. And finally, it means explaining why all the time. When people trust you, respect you and know you are honest, genuine and consistent, they will support the strategy and support changes, particularly when they understand why. In doing these things, leaders will have given their teams the shock absorbers they need to be resilient and strong in the face of constant change.