How new IT operating models stave off digital disruption

Companies are facing a digital imperative to revamp business operations to better serve customers. To accommodate these shifts, CIOs are making sweeping organizational changes, adding new key roles, setting up innovation labs and tapping modern technologies to meet strategic mandates issued by their CEOs and boards.

Social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) forms the primary digital fuel for most IT organizations. But CIOs who are eager to stay atop trends are also testing artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things and blockchain. Collectively, such technologies have the potential to help companies transform their business processes.

The share of organizations committing to enterprise-wise digital strategies has climbed from 25% in 2015 to 41% in 2017, according to the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2017.

As Victor Fetter, chief digital officer of Vertiv, puts it: "The leading CIOs are finding the right spots in their organization to make strategic hires to drive transformation. And they’re creating an environment where it's OK to innovate and use that to see how it shapes the agenda. They’re doing all of that in a space that's wrapped around the customer experience you want to deliver.”

While CIOs know to avoid the trap of employing technology for technology's sake, the new tools must be harnessed as part of an "unbounded IT" operating model in which CIOs better align their IT departments with the business strategy, according to Deloitte.


When Jim Swanson arrived at seed company Monsanto four years ago he saw “pockets of amazing digital data science technology” but no formal structure with which to harness it. He hosted hackathons, such as on a tool to improve data around seed returns, to make some of these innovations more transparent to the business. “Then we looked at how to scale that and we decided we had to pivot the organization pretty aggressively,” said Swanson.

With big data analytics playing an increasingly prevalent role in agriculture—an industry not known for technological change since its Industrial Age transformation—Swanson created a global product and engineering team overseeing platforms for data and analytics, operations and labs, customers, finance, and workforce. Atop these platforms, Monsanto creates software product roadmaps and offers digital agronomic advice services. Swanson said  it’s fair to view Monsanto’s IT department as a software development company. “We had to reorganize to be able to offer all of that,” he said.

Instituting that new digital operating model has given Monsanto a foundation on which to tackle machine learning projects. In one scenario machine learning algorithms analyze plant genotypes and phenotypes to determine whether they have good leaf and root structure, suggesting they could produce a better harvest. Monsanto also uses machine learning to analyze plant and leave structures for diseases. “For us, that’s really important because then we can provide a diagnosis and treatment,” said Swanson.


As CIO of LPL Financial, Fetter, who joined infrastructure management concern Vertiv in June, established a customer experience center where members interact with financial advisor clients to learn how to improve their workflow and processes. The team reports its findings to LPL’s business groups, which can adjust customer experiences, optimize workflows, enhance data insights and implement other customer-facing tools.

Fetter also appointed a DevOps point person whose role is to shrink time to market and hired a “data lead,” whose job is normalizing, extracting and using data in different ways and making it available to the business and clients. "It's about finding those key roles that you want to have in your organization to really drive change,” he said.