Three reasons why as a CIO and CSO you should hold each other's hands

By: Anne van Esch

In my daily work in the field of responsible digitization, I see that sustainability and digitization have a lot in common. Both strive for value creation, involve substantive complexity, and require a similar search for ownership.


Digitization and sustainability not only resemble each other, they are also interdependent. Therefore, it is inevitable that those responsible for digitization (CIOs) and those responsible for sustainability (CSOs) collaborate closely. Here are three reasons why this collaboration is so important:

1. CSOs can Learn from the CIO's experiences

Digitization remains a crucial topic, yet it still needs to further establish its strategic position. It is often perceived as complex and specialized, receiving attention mainly when some sexy innovation is possible or when an acute crisis looms. Long-term vision lacks incentives, as investments seem to detract from primary objectives. The parallels with sustainability are striking. Sustainability, too, is complex, vast, and new, making it difficult for many to grasp fully. Additionally, there is insufficient knowledge at the C-level to provide effective guidance. Consequently, responsibilities are assigned to CIOs and CSOs, who do not have full organizational reach. 

CIOs have years of experience organizing governance and bringing digitization to the boardroom. Initiating a sustainability governance framework with a strategic role for the business and digitization is crucial. The CIO can contribute invaluable knowledge and experience to this endeavor.

2. Digitization must naturally be more sustainable

Data and digital solutions are woven into the fabric of every organization, impacting multiple sustainability aspects (ESG: Environment, Social, and Governance). Therefore, digitization is both a crucial part of sustainability solutions and also a part of the problem. Digital solutions, such as generative AI, contribute significantly to increasing emissions and raise questions about responsible use, inclusivity, and ethics regarding data usage for and by citizens. 

As a CIO, you cannot independently decide which sustainability measures to invest in, as sustainability is a strategic topic requiring organizational alignment. The CSO, along with the rest of the C-level management, determines the priority of various sustainability themes. This sets the foundation for a sustainable digitization strategy. 

Finding a balance between value and responsibility, and between the present and the future, is a significant challenge for CIOs. Focus on goals that are strategically important organization-wide, utilizing tools such as an integrated strategic roadmap and business cases where various strategic perspectives converge.

3. Sustainability simply cannot happen without digitization

Many sustainability solutions inherently involve a digital component. Think of electrification, robotics, and software that streamline processes. Data are essential for understanding the organization's impact and for sharing information within the supply chain and the environment. 

This critical role of data and digitization means that as a CSO, you cannot proceed without the knowledge and input of the CIO. In shaping the strategy, ensure that digitization holds the correct strategic position. The CIO provides insight into the possibilities and risks of its implementation. Then, in the execution phase, jointly shape initiatives to achieve the intended goals. Both sustainability and digitization are integral to the strategy of a future-proof organization. Therefore, merge the strategies and roadmaps of sustainability and digitization, ensuring they continuously reinforce each other in governance.

CSOs and CIOs must collaborate closely for an integrated, valuable, and responsible strategy.

Since digitization and sustainability are so intertwined, it is crucial that CIOs and CSOs work closely together. Start today by exchanging knowledge and forming a collaboration that leads to successful goal achievement. Only through effective collaboration and governance can true success be achieved. 

If you need bridging knowledge of both domains to support this integration, I am more than willing to contribute to shaping an effective governance structure.


Want to know more?

Get in touch with Anne van Esch. 

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