At our recent CIO Forum in D.C., I had a number of conversations with clients who either had gone through or were going through a business transformation. From our talks, one theme jumped out at me — most CIOs will either lead some part of this transformation or get run over by it. From their perspective, there was no middle ground. To paraphrase one CIO, “There’s no way you can just go along for the ride and not get hurt.”

 A little data first. In a survey Forrester performed for Tata Consultancy Services, approximately 30% of those surveyed responded that the CIO was the most important senior leader in driving or supporting a business transformation; CIOs were rated highest — even above CEOs! With about a third of the sample coming from IT, the numbers were slightly skewed, but follow-up interviews with both business and IT people confirmed the results. To paraphrase the leader of IT strategy from one meeting, “Once past the vision phase, 80% of the work falls to the CIO.”

So why is the CIO asked to do so much in what is essentially a business initiative?

Let’s use KPMG’s Value Delivery Framework to illustrate. In it are five stages of a business transformation — discovery, strategy, road map, implementation, and monitoring — and a number of activities such as program management that span the stages. Of the five stages, implementation requires the greatest effort. From talking with those who have been through it, the greatest implementation challenges are in data, enterprise process redesign, project management, and organizational change management. And for at least the first three areas, IT is the group that is required to commit the most resources to these areas because IT has the greatest depth of experience.

It's apparent that one way or another, CIOs will be involved in business transformations. So, what did people recommend to improve this involvement? First, get involved in defining the overall strategy even if it’s no more than identifying the high-risk areas that will derail a transformation. Second, show people what’s possible through the experience of other companies and the problems they had getting there. And finally, take ownership of the technical areas that are most problematic. If it’s data, take on the creation of the data model and data strategy. And I’ll add a fourth recommendation of my own. Exploit the areas where the knowledge of business leaders is weakest. Business process redesign across business units, behavioral change management, data, and other areas are typically weak spots for businesspeople. If you know these areas, step in and provide guidance to the rest of the organization.

If you’d like to learn more about the CIO’s role in business transformation, join my session at CIO Forum EMEA (June 10-11 in London). If you’d like to share your own experiences, respond to this blog, or contact me directly.