The Need to be Strategically Digital

The Need to be Strategically Digital

By Dan Ryan, CIO, City of Battle Creek, Michigan

Dan Ryan, CIO, City of Battle Creek, Michigan

No matter where we turn as a public or private sector CIO, we are inundated with prose proclaiming our need to be a digital business. Disrupt or be disrupted! Look for the intersection of the digital world with the physical world, but be aware that digital business is blurring the lines between digital and physical worlds. Look to the cloud as that could hold the answer, once you decide upon public, private or hybrid. Convergence is upon us and has become the disruptor of what we knew. Things like storage, processing, and virtualization are now one changing our conceptualization of the single point of failure. Lest this becomes another writing that merely identifies a need created by placing an adverb in front of a concept understood, I offer a five-step outline that is actionable regardless of scale and an outline that is not affected by varying amounts of people, process, and technology.

"Climb high and be a leader in transforming the organization to a digital business or risk being on the sidelines as other roles emerge that will lower your value as a Chief Information Officer  "


Look around and identify the opportunities you have to solve business problem along with the respective stakeholders. Simplistic, yes, but in government we are often forced to shoehorn technology that has been selected by others for solving complex organization problems because we hesitate, evaluate, procrastinate and are simply late in proposing digital strategies to our business units.


Gather the affected stakeholders from business units and inform them on a regular basis of opportunities to proactively address issues. Evolution of anything, technology included takes time and an adaptive approach. Inform them in terms of relevancy. Bring them understanding in terms related to their particular function and keep the conversation moving towards a strategy that you will act upon.


Involve the right people. There is a lot of discussion around agility and the need for traditional information technology and for a fast adaptive approach. This bifurcated approach is a simple acknowledgement of the changing desires within our workforce. Unlike previous generations that were silo bound in the workplace and trained to problem solve independently or with a trusted confidante, today’s employee has been raised to be a member of ad-hoc teams loosely formed to solve specific problems and wants to work this way. This could be construed to be the “fast adaptive” approach and this must be allowed. Digital businesses strategy involves the right people which may differ from involving the traditional people.


Challenge yourself to innovate better solutions and not rely upon historical notion which can constrain. Disrupt your first solution with other realities. As CIO’s we have scenarios planned for situations we could meet in the IT environment to allow for business continuity or disaster recovery. We have to push this across the organization as every business unit becomes a digital business unit. This call to innovate is probably the most difficult step for public sector CIOs as our innovation is not profit or safety driven, but is innovation that results in the ability to extend resources further, shift business process, and optimize spending. All of these outputs from innovation create change and with change comes a natural resistance. Acknowledge the change caused by innovation and deliver a plan that moves them forward at the proper pace.


CIOs need to be strategic in all we do because we are at a very fragile juncture with our abilities and with our levels of support. Stay the course of safety and fail to envision and act on a future that is very different from today and risk obsolescence. If we want to survive as public sector technology leaders and continue as values add members of the C-suite we have to run across the finish line. Implement solutions that move the business into digital and begin today.

These various steps involve things we all do and know. They involve building trust, including people to build upon that trust, and then taking action. Focus on both operational and outward facing technology solutions that help the organization become strategically digital. Whether planning for how social media is going to disrupt the public sector and taking action to ensure it does so in a positive way or a more operational view of how the data center will look at our next refresh, begin today. Climb high and be a leader in transforming the organization to a digital business or risk being on the sidelines as other roles emerge that will lower your value as a Chief Information Officer. 

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