Key to CIO success in the pandemic era: Adopt a single digital platform

Digital enterprisewide platforms offer a range of benefits, including resilience to handle crises. Here’s how digital leaders are getting started.

CIOs increasingly are turning to enterprisewide platforms to tackle some of their biggest ongoing technology challenges—data fragmentation and incompatibility of electronic medical records. It’s a problem that the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened.

At Children’s Health in Dallas, the largest pediatric medical center in northern Texas, doctors need reliable data to serve patients coming in annually from other hospitals, health systems, or primary care MDs.

“Health interoperability is the river of data on which your and my wellness flows,” says Pamela Arora, CIO of Children’s Health. Doctors, clinicians, and others all depend on accurate, accessible patient data, regardless of what outside data streams are feeding the “river.” Digital enterprise platforms are emerging as an effective strategy for health system CIOs to solve that challenge.

A digital platform offers Children’s Health other benefits, too. “In healthcare, you can even think of it as a digital health ecosystem,” says Arora. “It allows us to connect all aspects of wellness. It facilitates a more complete picture of each patient’s healthcare journey while keeping patients and families in the center. That is fundamental to everything we do, and why we do it,” she says.

Arora’s peers agree—not just in healthcare, but in several other major industries, including telecoms, finance, public sector, and manufacturing. In a global study by ESI ThoughtLab and ServiceNow, 57% of CIOs say that integrating workflows, apps, and data through a single digital platform is an important strategic priority for future success. Among organizations that are the furthest along in adopting digital platforms—defined in the survey as “leaders”—nearly all CIOs (96%) agree, and are already seeing significant payoffs.

The case for a single platform

The survey results separated “leaders” from “followers” in adoption of digital enterprise platforms. Platform adoption correlated with higher revenue size. Leaders accounted for the greatest proportion (47%) of companies with revenue greater than $5 billion. More leaders also reported various benefits from their platforms when compared with follower organizations: improved customer satisfaction (55% versus 37% of followers), greater market share (54% versus 38%) and improved decision-making (53% versus 39%).

So what else defines a leader in digital enterprise adoption? The study identified 11 overall indicators of “maturity,” including:

  • Integration of workflows across organization
  • External integration with ecosystem partners
  • Equipping workers with the right digital skills
  • Integrating data, with cross-functional access
  • Enterprisewide use of robotic process automation (RPA) and AI

Among leaders, 75% deployed RPA and AI across the enterprise, compared to just 20% of followers. For Arora at Children’s Health, for example, RPA has become a critical workhorse: “It’s the duct tape of our IT,” she says, “when we’re trying to get different systems to work well together.” Children’s Health also uses predictive analytics and AI to improve no-show rates and reduce the number of “left without being seen” situations.

Getting started with a digital platform

How should CIOs move ahead with platform adoption if they don’t yet qualify as a digital leader? Survey data from leader organizations suggests a few elements of smart strategy:

  • Take a multiphased approach. In the first phase, companies should focus on foundational areas, such as cloud and RPA/AI, and data management. The second phase is more people-oriented, with attention given to workforce upskilling and customer experience. The third phase emphasizes greater integration of data and cross-functional platform management.
  • Do your homework before deciding which workflows to automate or digitize. Best practices are emerging among digital leaders when it comes to choosing which workflows to integrate, and when. According to the survey, leaders are following these steps:
  1. Identify processes for automation with use cases and projected ROI.
  2. Assemble digital and business teams who are deeply familiar with those processes.
  3. Analyze customer needs and behaviors.
  4. Set up pilots to confirm potential gains.
  5. Work with employees to understand their needs.
  6. Make sure the underlying processes are functional and well-designed.
  • Digitize and integrate workflows that are core to the business. Most leader organizations have already digitized workflows in IT, HR, customer service, finance, and employee engagement. But there is no blueprint for everyone. The best choices need to match the type of business. Financial services firms, for example, are well ahead in digitizing risk management and asset management; manufacturers, not surprisingly, lead in production and product development.

Because digital platform adoption is still a nascent discipline, the key for many CIOs today when it comes to becoming a “digital leader” may require them to look outside, not inside, their industries to find additional keys to success.