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For CIOs, it’s about the people, not the technology

As the orchestrator of ecosystems, CIOs can connect people and technology to help transformations succeed.

In brief

  • EY teams and the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School researched why transformations succeed or fail.
  • The research identified six key levers of transformation success and how CIOs can use them.
  • When implemented correctly, the research shows that the six levers can increase the likelihood of successful transformation 2.6 times, to 73%.

The need for organizations to effectively transform — and to do so continuously in the face of disruption — is critical for success. 

How can Chief Information Officers (CIOs) help execute successful transformations while building exceptional customer experiences and a rewarding place to work for their people? A recent research collaboration between EY teams and the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School provides key insights into the answer.

Using predictive analytics to evaluate the research data, we identified six key levers rooted in human behavior that, when pulled at the right times and in the right ways, can increase the likelihood of a successful transformation outcome by 2.6 times, to 73%.

1. Lead: become the maestro of connection

One of the CIO’s biggest roles within the organization is as the orchestrator of ecosystems. Within the business and with clients, partners and suppliers, CIOs are ideally positioned to connect business outcomes with supply ecosystems.


To succeed in the role of the maestro and increase the likelihood of transformation success, CIOs should acknowledge that they may not always have all the answers and seek ideas from their extended teams. To this point, 47% of respondents in high-performing transformations said that leaders accepted ideas from more junior personnel, versus 29% of respondents in low-performing transformations. However, if we zero in on the CIO specifically, we find that only 36% of CIOs accept ideas from more junior personnel.1

Emotional support
of respondents in high-performing transformations said that leaders accepted ideas from more junior personnel, versus 29% of respondents in low-performing transformations.

Key takeaway: Take the lead in fostering key connections through collaboration. Be open to new ideas, from all levels of the organization and from external networks of clients, partners and suppliers.


2. Inspire: support a shared vision of transformation that everyone can believe in

Realizing innovation is one of the top challenges CIOs and Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) face in delivering a successful transformation. CIOs may not drive transformations themselves, but they can bring innovative, technology-led solutions to the agenda.


Having a clearly articulated, shared vision with the business and creating connections with primary and secondary buyers can aid both the business and the CIO’s technology team in delivering toward the joint vision. While nearly half (47%) of CIOs believe their workforce understands and believes in the transformation vision and strategy, only 39% of the IT workforce said the same.


Key takeaway: Co-create and effectively communicate a shared vision and take the lead on translating the vision into desired technology outcomes.


3. Care: take a step back and listen

CIOs are sometimes more focused on implementing technology than considering its impact on people. The survey results indicate this may be true, with 51% of CIOs saying their organization provided a high level of emotional support during the transformation and only 41% of the IT workforce saying the same. That gap in perceived emotional support may translate into lower stakeholder buy-in, lack of user adoption and loss of functionality.

Emotional support
of CIOs said their organization provided a high level of emotional support during transformation, compared to 41% of the IT workforce saying the same.

Taking a step back and proactively listening to employees will benefit CIOs. Through deep listening, they may discover new ways of working and learn innovative solutions from others within the organization. Creating a safe environment in which employees want to come forward with new ideas will be key.

Key takeaway: Listen intently to what your people have to say and seek to tackle issues in a constructive and emotionally supportive way.

4. Empower: unleash the experts

In the research, a CIO of an online fashion retailer explained how they give their data scientists the freedom to explore how they can best add value. The CIO believes in unleashing their experts to experiment without repercussion.

Within many organizations, technology teams are constrained or are chronically concerned about IT systems going down. These organizations need to move beyond a mindset of tickets and transactions to establishing KPIs that measure the outcomes that are most important to the business. The focus should be on technology and functionality that makes the lives of their people easier. If CIOs and their teams have a shared understanding of the business outcome, they can establish shared responsibility for achieving it.

Key takeaway: Focus on the big picture. Give tech teams the freedom to meet the outcome rather than simply telling them what to do.

5. Build: see the humans beyond the technology

In transformations, CIOs tend to lead with technology and fail to ask what the end user wants or needs. But technology isn’t the vision of a transformation — it’s the enabler that brings the vision to life.

Nearly half (48%) of respondents in successful transformations said that their organization had invested in the right technologies to meet their transformation vision versus 33% of respondents from underperforming transformations. 

Tech investments
of respondents in successful transformations said their organization invested in the right technologies versus 33% of respondents from underperforming transformations.

CIOs also need to be able to see the human elements of transformation — the impact it will have on the employees’ experience, the customer experience and the teams delivering technology solutions.

Key takeaway: Prove the value of new, technology-enabled approaches early and enlist early adopters to bring customers and employees along in terms of realizing the vision.

6. Collaborate: create a culture of communication and co-creation

Today’s constant state of transformation requires interdependency and collaboration. Yet, often one of the first things to go in a transformation is the budget for fostering a new culture and new ways of working.

CIOs need to understand that people respond to information in different ways. As a result, it’s important they work closely with the business to implement a range of communication platforms that facilitate new ways of working and enable leaders and workers to share their experiences and key wins throughout the transformation journey. Supporting this, 41% of respondents in high-performing transformations said that their organization’s culture encouraged new ways of working, compared with 28% in low-performing transformations.

Key takeaway: Work closely with the business to build interdependency across teams to manage both the emotional and rational elements of change.

Harnessing the power of people together with technology for success 

Using these six levers, CIOs can work closely with the business and across the partner, supplier, customer and employee ecosystem to make purposeful decisions about technology in transformation. These decisions can reduce overlap, increase efficiency and ultimately aid in improving employee experiences, customer experiences, engagement and fulfillment across the entire organization.


The CIO’s position as a connector of people and technology gives them unique importance in a transformation. EY teams and the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School’s study on successful transformations shows that CIOs should be wary of relying too much on technology alone. Only when human actions and emotions are carefully considered is technology best utilized in a transformation. 

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