The Gist

  • Digital transformation. CIOs are increasingly focusing on improving both customer and employee experiences in the face of rapid change.
  • Customer connections. The role of CIOs is evolving to include more direct interactions with customers, understanding their needs and addressing friction points.
  • Roadmap forward. Isaac Sacolick's book "Digital Trailblazer" provides CIOs with actionable insights and guidance for navigating digital transformation successfully.

In this contributor Q&A discussion, CMSWire contributor Myles Suer is joined by Isaac Sacolick, author of "Digital Trailblazer: Essential Lessons to Jumpstart Transformation and Accelerate Your Technology Leadership.” Together, they explore the evolving role of CIOs in the era of digital transformation, focusing on the importance of customer connections, employee experiences and the need for a roadmap to guide organizations through change. To read Myles’ previous CMSWire column on the topics, checkout: “Digital Trailblazer: Drive Consequential Digital Transformations.”

Editor’s note: This column has been edited for clarity.

Dom Nicastro: Dom Nicastro here, CMSWire managing editor, joined by, whenever there's a Myles Suer interview, there's always a possibility it's going to be doubled with interviewees. And that's the case again, today, Myles Suer is with us. CMSWire contributor. He's brought along a friend and author Isaac Sacolick. And Isaac is the author of "Digital Trailblazer: Essential Lessons to Jumpstart Transformation and Accelerate Your Technology Leadership.” First of all, Myles, thanks for joining us.

Myles Suer: Nice to see you. 

Okay, Isaac, thanks for joining us as well.
Isaac Sacolick:
Thanks for having me.

Rapid Change: CIOs Adapt to Digital Transformation Demands

Nicastro: It's so good to be with you, gentlemen today, and we're gonna be talking about digital transformation. And particularly how that affects CIOs, too, you know, because Myles as a contributor for CMSWire, you've been talking a lot lately. And what I love about you Myles is you're very unique among our contributors, and that you really bring the pulse of, you know, what's going on with leaders in organizations, like CIOs in particular. And it's different from other contributors who give us their thought leadership only. And you kind of bring in the perspective of a lot of folks, you run a CIO chat, which is amazing. And you kind of bring those insights to us. So thank you very much. So that's the first question Myles is, what's the pulse lately, you've been hearing from CIOs, when it comes to all this adaptability, all this change that we've been experiencing in the last few years?

Suer: If anything, the pace of change has increased, we've written about that fact, over the last many months, the fact that, you know, COVID, if anything, if you weren't even doing anything for digital transformation, you had to jump on it. Because you were being hit by dual forces, you had to fix the customer experience. And then you had to also go fix the employee experience, and the two are related to each other. So CIOs are trying to move faster. And that's one of the things that really captured my imagination reading the "Digital Trailblazer" book is, it showed from the trenches what you need to do, and what actions you need to take to build an organization's future.

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Equipping IT Teams for a Dynamic Future

Nicastro: Yeah. And Isaac, you are the author of that book so much. Tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of the thesis of that book and what kind of led you down that road.

Sacolick: Yeah, thanks, Dom. And thanks, Myles, for that intro. You know, you talk about times of volatility that CIOs have been through and a lot of change. Over the last few years, we've talked about a pandemic hybrid working, the great resignation following after that. Now we're talking about whether or not we're in the middle of a recession or recession is coming in what is CIOs and IT leaders and data leaders? 

What are they all doing? Well, they need to spend more and more time with customers, spend more time understanding the risks in their supply chain, working directly with the leadership team to recalibrate their strategy. So if I'm a CIO, that's where I'm spinning. 

When I thought about that, particularly over the last few years, they said, well, you know, who is helping their number twos, their VPs of operations, go from running data centers, to running clouds to partnering on DevOps? Who's helping the head of applications, who at one point, maybe was doing some integrations and maybe doing some internal workflows, and now he's doing a lot of customer facing applications. And the data person, right, they're front and center, right? They've been doing data science work with analytics, now it's machine learning. They're trying to figure out how to put data governance in place, all that's happening, and the CIOs need to rely on their lieutenants and their secondary lieutenants to really run the transformation programs that they're doing. 

And so that was the thesis of the book. How can we help them get the experience that they need to survive a blow up moment when something doesn't go well, or take agile that works in the in startups for decades now and really apply it in their enterprise and make it work in their enterprise, where their CFO is still looking for three month types of roadmaps? So that's the thesis of the book. It's all stories. And I tell it from a first person narrative. So you're living, the experiences that I've been through. And at the end of every chapter, I leave everybody five lessons learned, so that they understand how to take it and put it into practice.

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Knowing When to Take Charge and When to Empower Others

Suer: You know, Isaac, one of the things you talked about in the book, which I think is so unique, is when do you take charge? And when do you lead by letting others lead? And you've lived that and, you know, when do you get hands on? When do you pull back? Those are the kinds of lessons that a lot of leaders need to to learn in this age.

Sacolick: Yeah, I agree. I mean, it's not something that I can be highly prescriptive about. You really have to first let your team take control of what's in front of them, and see where they're taking you on, they're on a journey. And at some point, you want to do a little bit, of course correcting, you want to be able to influence them with something that you know is important to your executive group, or important to a part of the strategy that they may not have knowledge about. Or maybe you sat in front of a customer, and you heard about a pain point that you want to relay. So there's a lot of sharing and knowledge discussion around this. And that's really where the leader has to come in and just provide enough guidance to their teams. 

Embracing a New Role in Direct Customer Engagement

Nicastro: Yeah, one thing you said Isaac, that caught my attention was, and Myles, I think it's crept into your columns on, too, is the connection that CIOs are needing to make with customers. Now, you know, we write a lot of copy about customer experience. And we really haven't talked about a CIO type needing to be in front of a customer and directly talking to a customer. So do you find that, let's start with Myles, that's something new that's emerging, how CIOs need to be more in front of customers who they're actually building software from.

Learning Opportunities

Suer: I've been hearing it for a number of years that they need to do this. And it is a change. But let's face it, you know, technology for a long time, was merely a productivity improvement engine. And it's where all the productivity gains that we've had over the last 50 years. Now we're, now CIOs are actually in the front office, helping determine whether the business still has a right to exist. And as well, how does it succeed at doing things? So that flip means they need to understand how our customers are engaging with technology, where are their friction points, all of those things. The CIO needs to have their finger and pulse on.

From Back Office to Direct Interaction in the Digital Age

Nicastro: Yeah, go ahead. I was gonna say like, I'm picturing, like, you know, the Netflix CIO, does he have to, he or she have to sit in front of those customers, not just the marketing folks, not just the design folks, not just the customer experience, you're actually seeing these tech leaders sitting directly one to one with customers?

Suer: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you flash back 20 years ago, it was really only technology companies that were providing customer-facing technology back to their end users to their customers.

Now you flash forward to today. And virtually every company has some form of technology that we're putting in front of customers. If you're a bank, you're doing it, if you're a hospital, you're doing it. I work with construction companies, construction companies are getting good at developing expertise around specific technologies that are going to go into a building and that CIO better know how it interfaces better, know how it gets sold to the owner, better understand what the end user experiences when you walk into a building and you see new security technologies in place.

You think about manufacturers are putting IoT devices in their actual goods that they're manufacturing, you know, more than just figuring out how to install it. But which of the devices is going to be most robust, that's going to provide the highest level of security, there's no way the CIO should sit back and wait for somebody into the business to tell them this is what we need to do. Right? 

That's where the CIO expertise needs to be is. Tell me what problem what the opportunity is, let me get firsthand and understand how a customer is going to use a particular set of technologies. And let me help in providing not just solutions, but trade offs, a lot of technologies around trade offs, a lot of experiences around understanding how to personalize the experience for a particular set of users. That's where CIOs really need to have a strong call today.

The CIO's Roadmap: Strategies for Thriving in the Digital Era

Nicastro: And Myles last thought from you on the on the column you wrote today and the column we're talking about Isaac with, what's the what's the big takeaway? If I'm a CIO reading through this, what do you think they should get out of it?

Suer: You know, what CIOs need to know, they have to have a roadmap for the journey forward. And so what Isaac does is give them a sense of the things that they have to actually think about and implement. I mean, yes, you know, we talked about in the previous book about how, you know, business leaders need to be able to have a digital mindset, which is a is a great thing to have. But there needs to be certain things in place like agile practices, and small teams and all of those kinds of things, in order for the business to thrive in the digital era. And the CIO has a major role in making that happen. So I think Isaac accomplishes in his book is the ability to talk about all those things that you need to do in order to support your organization so it can win in the future.

Nicastro: I love those very practical, actionable books and you know, besides breaking into your office there, Isaac and grabbing a copy behind you, where where can our readers get a hold of the book?

Sacolick: It's obviously it's on Amazon, it's probably the best place to go look for it. If you ever team that you want to do reading and sharing with your team, you can buy a books for me, I do them signed copies if you buy them in bulk, I will do a presentation with your team and a discussion with them. So you can either reach out to my website or you can reach out to Amazon and pick up a copy. Thank you for that. 

Nicastro: Oh, absolutely. Thank you for being part of Myles Suer’s column. It's great to bring in another voice on here onto our website and Myles says no one better than him for that. Hey, gentleman, I thank you very much for for joining us today.