It seems like just when you get good at something, they change the rules on you. And no one knows this better than an enterprise CIO.

In the past, the IT department was an unseen part of the company, appearing only when problems occurred, and otherwise keeping to itself. As technology became more mobile and applications more granular, IT learned to operate like a business within a business, distributing “goods” among employees, more or less treating them like customers.

Now the rules are changing again. IT is moving its focus from the company’s employees to the company’s customers, and the CIO is expected to be a driver of innovation and a leader within the company. Instead of using technology and information just to save the company money, today’s CIO is charged with actually making the company money by seizing market opportunities and curating the company’s move to maximum agility. In the words of Bloomberg Businessweek, “The CIO’s job is akin to a circus ringmaster, balancing business needs against an incoming stream of opportunities – and risks.”

These are difficult changes, and the transition likely won’t be entirely smooth. How can CIOs answer the call?

3 keys for a successful evolution

In a recent report on the global CIO agenda, Gartner1 outlines three keys to helping IT assume its new role in the enterprise:

  1. Exercise digital leadership:Business processes, commerce and interaction are all going digital across an increasingly mobile and remote corporate landscape, and the CIO must be the agent of strategy, vision and education within the enterprise, bringing everyone — including the rest of the C-suite — in line with what it means to be a digitally strategic and savvy business in the new world of work. This includes holding informational one-on-ones with fellow executives, as well as devising new solutions and strategies by experimenting with unconventional efforts like hackathons.
  1. Update core IT focus and capability. Big data and the cloud are more than just buzzwords. They are – or can be – vital resources for creating competitive advantage and driving business value. CIOs will have to explore deploying apps and services over public, private and hybrid clouds, and will also have to fortify their information infrastructure in such a way that it can process and derive actionable data from the analytics.
  1. Develop multi-velocity capability.IT will have to operate at multiple speeds, including more conventional paces to address the heavy load of maintenance involved in running the department; and quicker, more dynamic and intrapreneurial rates, so the business can respond with agility and immediacy to sudden opportunities. This includes scaling up and down as needed and allowing new technologies to transform business models and existing perspectives. Digital technology changes very quickly, and within the enterprise, it will be IT’s job to identify those changes that pose opportunities and seize them — even if that involves some risk.

Challenges for the new IT

Unfortunately, the increasing imperative for growth and innovation hasn’t been matched by an increase in funding. Being asked to take the helm without having significant support puts CIOs in a very tough position. But an experienced partner in IT services can help.

Filling gaps in budget and expertise is something that outsourcing some or all of your IT operations can do very well.
Two key ways an IT services provider can help CIOs to successfully meeting today’s expectations for IT:
  • A partner can help your company achieve multi-speed capability by devoting its resources to day-to-day operations, allowing the CIO and core staff to focus on strategy and opportunities beyond the server room walls.
  • In terms of updating the core of IT, outsourcing can help you adapt and grow your infrastructure in the most strategic and compatible way for your business. What’s the right cloud solution for you? On-premise? Multi-tenant? How will you deploy and manage the apps your workers use throughout the enterprise? Every company has individual answers to the many IT questions they’re facing, and it helps to work with someone who knows the space and is practiced in fitting solutions to various needs.

As for the leadership piece, ask yourself these questions: Do you feel ready to lead discussions about strategy and opportunity? Are you comfortable being the facilitator of digital maturity within the enterprise? What will it take for you to reach that level of readiness? If you aren’t comfortable with any of your answers, now is the time to fill any gaps in your knowledge or awareness.

Take a quick Ricoh survey to assess where your organization currently stands in its digital transformation journey.

1 Gartner Executive Programs. “Taming the Digital Dragon: The 2014 CIO Agenda.” Gartner.