Digital transformation: Your career at a crossroads

Digital transformation: Your career at a crossroadsJames Lowey has seen a lot of change during his career, which began in 1992, managing computer labs at several companies and doing what he calls “the pre-Y2K flurry of IT projects.”

Lowey, CIO at genomics and cancer research company TGen, earned his early IT chops working on systems like Windows NT 3.1, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX and Linux. Since joining TGen 14 years ago, he’s been responsible for the development of two supercomputers. Instead of worrying about how to keep his own skills current, Lowey finds that it’s more challenging keeping up with the pace of scientific discovery and the technology that enables it—which he said often moves faster than most IT technological change.

Consequently, he spends over 50% of his time learning about new scientific technologies and methodologies to help keep TGen on the cutting edge of biomedical research.

“Some of the ways that I learn about new technologies [are] spending considerable time at trade shows and other industry events, as well as partnering with major technology players and [venture capital] firms in order to learn about new technologies as soon as possible,” he said.

Lowey is certainly not alone. As digital transformation becomes a more frequent part of the enterprise lexicon, CIOs and other IT leaders find themselves scrambling to update their skills and capabilities as they forge ahead in their modernization efforts. Those who prepare reap the benefits: 71% said their standing within the business has improved in the past three years, and 60% said they are able to influence broader company strategy compared with 45% of their traditional CIO peers, according to a report from Ernest & Young.

The challenge: Reinventing IT for the next generation

A central issue for many IT leaders is the simple fact that IT work is significantly different than it was when they were moving up the ranks. So too are the expectations and work methodologies of those who make use of information technology in today’s workplace.

"I think the most challenging part for CIOs that did not grow up in the dotcom world is to understand the behavior patterns around information creation, consumption and distribution as well as engagement for next-generation consumers and employees,’’ said Ari Lightman, a digital media and marketing professor at Carnegie Mellon University. 

IT leaders need to rethink legacy models around command and control, IT service levels, access and permissions, application vetting and testing, Lightman said. This will allow for greater transparency, crowdsourced work models, real-time information flow and analytic decision making.

“This is not to say that they will have to swing completely to the other side of the spectrum,” he added, “but some give and take will need occur to enable a next-generation workforce and engage the next generation of consumer/partner."

Revamping your strategic approach to IT in light of these shifts is essential. Here, educating yourself as to how this “next generation” workforce collaborates and interacts with technology is key. Some CIOs, such as Aflac’s Julia Davis, are making great strides through reverse mentoring programs that pair young apprentices with IT veterans to teach the vets new tech.

Digital transformation: Career disruptor

To underscore how important digital transformation is becoming, IDC’s Worldwide IT Industry 2017 Predictions report named it as one of the 10 key tech developments in the next 18-36 months and beyond.