Digital Transformation: The View from the Trenches

When you hear the words Digital Transformation, it’s tempting to view it as a strategy developed and deployed from the highest levels of an organization but digital transformation impacts people at different levels of an organization in different ways.

I have a unique perspective on digital transformation formed by my day job working for the world’s leading tech company where we’re at the cutting edge of the innovation and the opportunities that digital transformation can provide, and contrasted with my work as an advisor to organizations who are on the front lines looking to balance strategy, resources, execution and a cultural change as we travel our own digital transformation journey.

Here’s what I can tell you: Depending on your role and the pressures you are facing, your view of digital transformation will be different.

Transformation in the Trenches – At the Boardroom Table

The board of directors looks at digital transformation at the strategy level and how it will help ensure the viability of the organization going forward. We are responsible to work with our executive team to help balance the tremendous pressure to transform the organization and leverage the new tools available with the resources at our disposal, including staff and budget. We’re thinking about how to set the table for success today and in the future.

One of the biggest items on today’s agenda is digital transformation and identifying what the right digital transformation strategy is for the organization, while recognizing it’s not a single project but an ongoing journey. At the same time, we need to help balance the pressure the organization is feeling to accelerate change, which has blown up with all the attention on digital transformation, against the resources and budgets we have at our disposal.

It’s not an easy balancing act but staying the same (or doing nothing) puts us, as an organization, at greater risk.

In the CIO Seat

When you slide into the CIO seat, your perspective changes. For a CIO, digital transformation is a zero-sum game. They’re asked to do more and more, with only an incremental bit more budget. So, where digital transformation requests might have tripled over the last 24 months, budgets are not tripling.

They’re also seeing a change in the way digital transformation projects are initiated. In the past, an IT strategy was developed and driven by the IT department, but we’ve seen a rise in business unit decision-making on IT transformation. The CIO needs to be at the table with business unit leaders to help align the priorities, strategy, technology, resources and budget.

A key question becomes how to ensure clear linkages within IT and the business unit because today a large percentage of the IT budget comes from business units. Technology needs to support the business unit objectives. It’s all about ensuring the technology implemented today and in the future is truly aligned to the business unit objectives moving forward.

At the same time, IT is facing tremendous pressure to “get it right” (and that pressure increasing). IT is the central nervous system of an organization and without it, nothing works. It’s the path to business results 8 o’clock Monday morning AND the path to strategy achievement 24 months down the line.

Mainframe & Digital Natives Merge in the Trenches

From an organization point of view, we need to remember that digital transformation is all about people. A culture of digital transformation requires everyone to embrace the journey we’re on and that’s not always easy. Many of today’s organizations are diverse organisms that have a critically important role to play in an industry or community.

Digital transformation requires an internal cultural shift, but also specialize in expertise to deploy the solutions we’ve targeted. Unfortunately, we don’t have a vast pool of digital transformation experts walking the streets so we need to foster and grow those skills and build a culture of innovation organically. We’re not alone in the struggle to bring the right expertise to the table.

One thing we’re seeing more and more is the need to create a bridge between the mainframe approach to IT where no one outside IT touched or controlled technology with the digital natives’ approach which is driven by sharing and complete unfettered access to everything. The key is integrating these two mindsets so your digital transformation strategy moves forward with buy-in from all sides and approaches. It’s not an easy transition for anyone but it’s critical to success.

In a complex organism, it’s hard, if not impossible to drive a top-down digital transformation strategy. You need to roll out a strategy that moves dynamically from the top-down and the bottom up to deliver on business objectives. To be successful, you need broad-based adoption and you have the right mindset and culture to embrace the digital transformation cycle.

More next time.