Every technology wave has a way of calling the role and value of IT into question. Digital transformation is current wave requiring CIO and IT to write a new story about themselves and their value. Before we can talk about the new story, it is important to think about past tales of IT.

A brief history of technology, the business and IT

The cycle of new business and technology waves repeats itself as it drives innovation and change. Mainframe technology went hand in hand with the rise of corporate divisions and functions supporting a story of information for competitive advantage expressed in a 1985 article from Michael Porter and Victor Millar. In the 1990’s, integration became the story based on client server technology and business process reengineering. IT became a service organization in the face of cost and quality issues. Lately, cloud and related technologies took center stage in the mid 2000’s raising the question “Does IT Matter?”

Digital transformation is the current wave requiring the CIO and IT to rethink its role and therefore its story.

Digital Transformation is Different

Every technology wave is disruptive. Digital transformation is different and disruptive in a different way. Digital technologies are fundamentally human technologies. They are different from prior technologies that primarily enabled business processes. This opens technology up to new areas such as sales, marketing, service and customer engagement. Applying technology to these and other front office processes are the force behind demands for greater IT speed and agility.

It is time for a new story of IT and the CIO written in a new way.

Writing a new story.

Technically a story is ‘an account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something.’ A story is more than a beginning, middle and end. A good story informs and influences the reader building understanding and action. Many IT’s past stories were weak on this point at they essentially presented a proposal for repositioning the IT function. Following an as-is and to-be structure is less of a story than setting up a zero sum situation with little room to move forward.   Telling the tale of the future of IT in this way reduces the CIO’s ability to inform or influence support for a new position.

Conflict, a different way of telling a story

A story told in the form or a proposal is largely without a plot. A compelling plot drives the situation and argument that creates lasting change. The challenge is that in order to have a plot you need identify and work with conflict. Conflict defines the stakes. Without recognizing conflict, a story is bland with limited reason to act.   The resolution of the conflict is the fuel for change, the call to arms, the reason for leading change.

Conflict abounds in digital transformation, creating an opportunity to tell a really compelling story. There are four levels of conflict from the individual to the market:

  • Personal conflicts, those that exist within an individual. They are the inner conflicts that drive individual actions.
  • Interpersonal conflicts, the tensions and challenges in relationships between people,
  • Social or organizational conflicts, the tension within functions in organization or groups in society
  • Environmental or systemic conflicts, the

Digital transformation changes the status quo with the potential to create conflict at all levels.

At the environmental level, digital transformation creates new winners and losers, redefines industries, disrupts established players, changes value propositions, etc. Resolving environmental conflicts tells a story about how the enterprise will win in this new environment.

At the social or organizational level, digital transformation fractures the technology stack, redistributes power and influence among executives, change the technology labor sourcing model – all leading to resolution through new structures and ways of working.

At the interpersonal level, the CIO’s relationship with executive peers, their own team, partners and suppliers has changed. Forging new relationships with the CEO, CMO, CFO and divisional leadership and a new role for IT.

Finally, at the personal level, CIOs need to recognize the level of personal leadership required for change, the potential to accept a redefined role and the energy required to lead a change.

At any level, there is a compelling story to tell that redefines IT and the CIO by recognizing and resolving the one or more conflicts. The specific conflict and its resolution is unique to each organization. Everyone has their own story to tell and is best in telling their own story.

The point of this post is simple, tell stories in ways that engage and motivate people. Those stories are ones that recognize conflict rather than just make recommendations. It will be hard, but in a world of digital transformation, burying conflict puts the future at risk.

Once upon a time …

The next words are yours.


Mark McDonald is a Managing Director and Digital Business Lead in Accenture’s Management Consulting practice, which helps clients to strategize, architect and innovate to create value and revenue from digital capabilities. 

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.