Digital Transformation: Key Factors For Business and IT Leaders

By Executive coaching News
Digital Business executive in a suit

With a relentless push for digital transformation among companies of all sizes, business leaders and IT professionals must embrace an environment with constant change.

Digital disruption is everywhere, and the competitive landscape has shifted to a modern form where customized business solutions must be delivered at a rapid pace. But in order to be successful, business and IT leaders need to work hand-in-hand to innovate quickly and deliver on all transformation scenarios. To understand the opportunities and challenges of today’s business landscape, we’ve been listening attentively to what CIO’s and technology officers have been saying about their own organizations.

The following topics are an overview of the factors involved in driving business and productive change in a new era of IT: digital business innovation.

Digital Transformation and level of maturity (Key Performance Indicators – KPIs)

We can say with certainty: business transformation is no longer just an idea, but rather a necessity for companies that wish to exist in the foreseeable future. And although a company’s physical size does matter with relation to how it will transform, the majority will all start this process with different goals. This approach most often targets the key business demands driving the need for transformation: business model change, operational efficiencies, consumer behavior, and ecosystem value. Each one of these starting points serves as an indicator of an organization’s maturity level or preparedness for digital business innovation, and provides a framework for challenges. Each level of maturity helps both technology and business leaders define strategies that align with their current capabilities and future needs. It’s also important to understand that digital transformation doesn’t have a true ending point. A company can’t finish a transformation, at least not yet — it’s ongoing and fits into nearly every business ecosystem on the planet. But why are businesses of all shapes and sizes more focused on change and innovation? The answer: success enabled by technology.

IT and Business Must Collaborate and Communicate

Across the spectrum of digital innovation projects — be it logistics, software development, retail systems, medical or automation — many CIO’s agree that IT must partner with business leadership to achieve results. Especially when implementing a strategy for digital growth, CIO’s and IT leadership must remember they are a core component of the company-wide culture shift needed for change, not just the technology product involved in the process. Innovation should be viewed as a business-first endeavor, where strategy and collaboration lead the way to a desired outcome. On many occasions, we’ve listened to CIO’s speak about IT as the “gatekeepers” to advanced technology solutions. Yet, without clear business goals or the tools to measure progress, these projects are derailed and result in greater uncertainty. So, when embarking on digital transformation, ask this one important question: How can IT and business collaborate to best deliver on a project’s end goal?

Although vital to company-wide collaboration, mapping out a strategy and identifying KPI’s doesn’t guarantee a successful launch for business innovation. Especially true for large organizations with many moving parts (i.e. departments that are potentially moving in different directions), a catalyst is needed to help teams ‘see’ the bigger picture and the realistic, digital benefits they are all working towards. Feedback from current CIOs proves: a single big data platform can serve as the catalyst needed to “jump start” transformation. From here, big data becomes an effective tool for growth and progression — complementing the strategy rather than adding to an already complicated process. And as IT and business leaders work together in pursuit of a unified goal, the key is to understand the impact of technology on customers, not the technology itself. As large corporations such as GE can teach us, a collaborative leadership team helps leverage technology to transform the customer experience and interface. Ultimately, current success stories show that technology is an enabler for success – technology has caught up, and in many instances, surpassed the expectations of business demands providing a need for innovation.   

Are you familiar with the vital technology roles within a company preparing for digital business innovation?

Here are a few to consider:  

  1. Solution Architect
  2. Dev-Ops
  3. Full Stack Developers
  4. Data Scientist (machine learning)
  5. Learning Engineers
  6. Business Analysts
  7. Product Owners
  8. Project Managers
A Unified Digital Strategy

It’s easy to assume there’s a unified strategy for every digital project. But the more time we spend learning from CxOs, the more we understand how different a strategy for digital transformation must be when compared to many other growth plans. As we discussed in our previous article, Closing The Gap On Digital Transformation, every strategy has multiple components to consider, and the main one focuses on creating a complete cultural shift within the company. We are talking about a change in thought and organizational culture that will help contributors think about people and processes in a modern fashion. You can think of this strategy as the “journey” across the enterprise — everyone within the company is invited, and must work together with clarity and focus in order to reach a rewarding destination. As example has shown, it’s up to leadership to set the direction and pace of this journey while educating the entire organization on how to bring unification around technology and digital innovation.

From internal efficiencies to products/services, a company’s workforce must be open to change and continuously feel empowered to design solutions within their own business unit. Through the benefit of digital products, solutions can be shared with every member of the organization — information no longer passes across departments from one silo to another, it’s available company-wide. When everyone has access to data, analytics, and tools to visualize the data, a unification can take place around embracing technology. This is one of the challenges companies of all sizes face: the time and education required to unify is a serious investment leaders must embrace. In order to remain competitive, systems and solutions require quick mobilization by teams which may not traditionally work in unison. But this open-door environment is just half of the equation, there needs to be fluidity among workflow to make it useful in a timely manner. As competition increases among all industries, there is less time to prepare and a greater pressure to act.

Who Leads For Digital Transformation?

From a company’s preparedness for innovation to its workplace culture, preparing for digital transformation is an undertaking of significant proportion. And as we highlighted, through a focus on IT collaboration in unison with business leaders, a team-based approach has proven to be the ultimate catalyst of empowerment for every level of the workforce. With everyone’s head-in-the-game, less time and money is spent on managing people, and in return is directed into new technology projects. But even when progress is “buzzing” there still needs to be a true leader in place to direct the ship and navigate the treacherous waters.

Without question, the rapid pace of innovation over the past few years has led to a transformation of process among leaders. As technology enables IT departments to innovate, the role of the CIO has become imperative for driving change beyond their traditional scope of work. In fact, with the common mindset changing, CIOs are now moving into new roles with the responsibility of driving forward momentum for their organization — developing the skills and culture of IT to be more consumer focused and analytical. And while these leaders work to adapt current teams, they also need to establish reliable talent pipelines that are digitally savvy.

The CIO and CEO

A common theme among current information-technology leaders is the recognition of a talent shortage across IT fields.

The millennial workforce is primed for technology-driven projects, but their views and demands are still a bit progressive for many traditional employment structures. The traditional model of an office-based workforce doesn’t sit well with many younger professionals who view workforce flexibility as the ultimate freedom. As traditional rules are modernized to foster development, autonomy, and purpose, more and more talent will increasingly show their loyalty to organizations that adapt. Having a strong digital acumen is not uncommon for today’s college graduates, who as interns, can be cultivated into strong leaders for technology innovation. As we have observed, many college programs are producing impressive graduates but the talent management challenges still remain: attracting AND retaining top talent.

Although the role of the CIO has acquired even greater responsibility with the added requirements for digital transformation, this position requires partnership with fellow officers in a combined effort to influence boards and execs to move on change and accept business appropriate risk. It’s this appointed-executive leadership team that drives decisions relating to technology innovation for their organizations.

The new hurdles companies face during digital transformation have cultivated the need for a new position within some large organizations: The Chief Digital Officer (CDO) or “Transformer In Chief.” Smart Insights reported that in 2016 alone, one-third of all companies had a digital program in place while an equal portion were also preparing their program for launch within the next twelve months. Although many companies still don’t have a CDO (due to budgetary restrictions and overall size), it’s a position that’s making an impact as traditional executives experience the challenges of creating a digital-first culture.

The majority of today’s companies, however, still rely on the CEO to orchestrate the executive-decision making during the initial transformative process. In fact, the role of the CEO and CDO often morph into one, making the Transformation Officer a transient position. Realistically, a Transformation Officer is only needed to cultivate a sustainable digital culture. Once “transformed,” they can be called upon by another organization in need, or transition back into the CEO role if their acumen and mindset are still beneficial to the company. In this day and age success breeds opportunity, and executives must learn to let go of absolute control if they want to influence comprehensive change that lasts.

Learn more on the role of the CEO: The seven decisions that matter in a digital transformation: A CEO’s guide to reinvention

Whether executives have ‘digital’ in their title or not, it’s time for every professional to embrace the digital enterprise. In this new era of IT, it’s pleasing to see innovation happening throughout an entire company. But even so, the CIO has greater responsibility than ever before, working to cultivate new ideas, talent, and most important, a culture of collaboration. In this new phase of innovation and transformation, business leaders and executives need to collaborate, forming one large conversation on implementing the best digital strategy.

Organizations are at a crossroads where a mindset change can make all the difference in the ongoing process of transformation. We are all at the busy intersection of major technology innovation and strategic business decision making, and it’s never been more critical for leadership to rise to the occasion in a joint partnership.