The Transformative CIO and the Smart City

5 February 2018

The pace of business growth is becoming increasingly fluid, as digital disruptions and rapid-fire innovations erode at the status quo for large swathes of industry segments. Even for firms from traditional niches, the CIO is increasingly viewed not merely as a technology implementer, but a senior leader with a pivotal role in helping businesses stay ahead through constant innovation and business transformation.


Competitive advantage

With technology forming the backbone of organisations, CIOs need to shift from telling the organisation the reasons why a project or initiative can’t be done, to finding ways to deliver competitive advantages through the judicious application of technology. But while the role of the CIO cannot be understated when it comes to keeping existing systems running, CIOs capable of transformative change are also a rarity.

According to analyst firm Forrester1, CIOs can be broadly defined into four categories. They range from traditional IT implementers (~10%) who typically follow the board’s or CEO’s direction to the letter, to those who are capable of successfully balancing the needs of IT with enterprise business requirements. The latter is fortunately in the majority, and are billed as “Leaders of IT”.

Yet only about 10% may have participated in transformative initiatives in the past, and are hence able to bring with them the best practices and lessons learnt from their previous organisations. A very small fraction of 5% are deemed as capable of leading this transformation themselves, including securing funding and tracking the progress of projects in meaningful ways.

There is no question that the role of CIO has become a blend of business and technology, with a unique reach to every façade of the business thanks to digitisation. And as opposed to shopping for vendors or software products to deploy, they now need to roll up their sleeves to deliver technology solutions tailored specifically for the organisation.


A transformative mindset

Transiting from implementing technology to being able to initiate transformative changes within the organisation is a big step that requires a radical paradigm shift in one’s mindset. This starts with CIOs being willing to move beyond the familiar grounds by stepping out as a business leader who seeks to partner with all aspects of the business to deliver value and increase revenue.

CIOs with a strategic mindset are keen to harness new opportunities, and take responsibility for driving innovation. This can range from helming projects that improve customer experiences and resolve existing bottlenecks, as well as finding new ways of addressing old problems. Importantly, they need to look beyond immediate needs, and adopt a more strategic posture to the systems under their purview.

They need to embrace new technologies and agile methodologies as necessary, and either leverage them to solve old problems or to establish a platform for future growth. IT systems should hence consist of flexible and adaptive components that can be easily repositioned to support new initiatives, as opposed to monolithic deployments that cannot keep pace with business requirements.

Ultimately, CIOs must pivot and move from being the head of a department tasked to implement technology, to business leaders with a unique understanding of the technology deployed within the organisation. Only as they start to think deeper about helping the organisation to drive strategic growth and increase market opportunities can they bring about genuine transformation.


Rethinking the smart city

When it comes to the increasingly popular topic of smart cities, a similar transformative mindset must be adapted to generate genuine improvements. While many of the components such as Internet of Things (IoT) appliances and digital services are hardly revolutionary on its own, what really matters is how they can be weaved into a cohesive tapestry of services and capabilities to move the needle when it comes to liveability.

For instance, the use of smart lamp posts2 as envisioned by Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative can do more than improve security with the use of surveillance cameras, by empowering it with artificial intelligence (AI) for real-time insights during a security incident or emergency. Pedestrian traffic and vehicular traffic can also be measured with the use of computer vision technology, while water sensors can be installed to quickly detect the increasing number of flash floods in the face of global warming.

Indeed, plans are afoot for these smart lamp posts to be networked into clusters3, with each lamp post within the cluster sporting different sensors. Scenarios are planned in which connected cars can be alerted to the presence of a nearby ambulance, and automatically alerted to make way for it. What’s more, the ongoing replacement of more energy efficient LED means that the smart features can be powered by this energy savings.

For sure, we are at the very start of a new revolution that looks set to change what it means to live in a city. With the right transformative approach, the sky is the limit.


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