Building a New Digital Business Model is Not a Functional Expertise Problem It’s a Collaboration Problem

Everywhere you look today someone is trying to harpoon the CIO and the role and value of corporate IT:

  • A recent Forrester study showed that by 2015 for the first time in history IT departments will lead only a minority of IT projects.
  • Pundits galore are pontificating on the need to replace the CIO with the CMO or the new Chief Digital Officer role.
  • Shadow IT, technology purchases that bypass corporate IT, are growing at double digit levels.
  • Long standing adversarial relationships between IT and its internal business partners and users have furthered a “legacy mindset” that believes “IT takes too long, costs too much and never gives me what I really want.”
  • Lastly, many companies still see Corporate IT as only a cost center/support function rather than a direct contributor to driving new revenues and profits.

What all these arguments misunderstand is that building a new digital business model is not a “functional expertise problem” it’s a “collaboration problem.” That’s why C-Suite executives cannot solve these problems with a “command and control” management approach, which just fosters a silo mentality. Rather, they need to find a way to get all the key stakeholders to work together to create cross enterprise digital innovation solutions.

Converting Adversarial Relationships to Collaborative Relationships

The foundation for this new approach is what I’ve called “Collaborative IT” and as the model below shows it involves a mindset change, a process change and a conversation change.

Collaborative IT Model

At the core of the new digital business model is a company’s ability to leverage and deploy “technology enabled innovation” as a driver of new revenues and profits. To do that successfully requires the full participation and collaboration of all the key stakeholders in the company working against mutually agreed upon business outcomes and deliverables. No one functional area or business unit can hope to have anywhere near the desired impact that this collaborative approach can deliver.

Working Together to Create “Friction Free” Customer Engagements

Man using Ipad & Iphone

One of the major drivers of the new era of digital interactions is the demand by customers for “friction free” engagements. What consumers are looking for from companies is to be able to engage with them as easily as they engage with their family and friends using a variety of applications and tools:

  • Web has made searching for information friction free
  • Mobile has made access friction free
  • Cloud has made computing friction free

To deliver these types of consumer interactions within the enterprise, IT must be able to develop and deploy a stable and secure architecture that organizes and manages seamless interfaces between human assets armed with systems of engagement with data assets managed by systems of record. Here are some examples of how you can deliver these friction free customer engagements with this seamless interface:

  • Charles Schwab – Remote Deposit Capture
  • FedEx – Re-Route Your Package Delivery Location in Transit
  • Hyatt Hotels – Eliminate Lobby Check-In
  • Canadian Diary – iPhone Milk Testing App

This collaborative process begins by:

  • Identifying the key moments of customer engagement that define the success of the business
  • Then asking who or what represents the company at this moment of engagement
  • And finally asking how can systems of engagement make that a friction free customer experience

This process strongly relies on the cross enterprise distribution of data, information, knowledge and expertise in order to achieve that kind of outcome. It also must recognize and account for the fact that the customer now wants, in fact demands to be, more in control of how they engage with a company instead of the other way around.

Some Interesting Early Adopter Actions

In my view, one of the best indicators of the progress of a disruptive innovation, like the emergence of the new era of digital interactions, is to identify specific actions that early adopters are taking to get out in front of this shift and in doing so hopefully gain the competitive advantage of that head-start. Here are three recent ones that I thought were quite compelling:

starbucksStarbucks CEO to Focus on “All Things Digital” –
At the end of January, Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, announced that he was reassigning all his operating division head reports to the company’s COO so he could be freed up to focus on “all things digital.” As part of this new focus, he will work directly with his Chief Digital Officer and Chief Strategy Officer on what he called “next generation retailing and payments initiatives.” This work will include the convergence and integration of Starbucks retail, e-commerce, digital, card and mobile assets around the world.

pizzaBig pizza chains are Investing in web- based systems – Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut have all made significant new investments in web-based systems that let their customers order and pay for deliveries quickly without having to call their order in by phone. These chains say that they now derive “40% or more of their sales from digital orders.” This growth has come at the expense of smaller, independent pizza shops with large pizza chains accounting for 52% of pizza orders, up from 47% in 2009, while smaller pizza shops’ share fell to 29% from 32%.

bmw BMW brings its dealerships into the Digital Age – BMW just announced a new program that will fundamentally change the look and customer experience at their dealer showrooms. They plan to rip out showroom cubicles, install flat screen displays and hire “product geniuses” to explain the complex digital technology in its cars without the pressure to close the sale. Taking a page out of the Apple retail customer experience, BMW hopes to create a “more digital, hands-on” customer buying experience than today’s more traditional buying experience.

As I have written in previous blogs, we are still in the early stages of this major transformative shift. But some early evidence suggests that the new digital business model will deliver much better returns when all stakeholder’s use a collaborative approach rather than a command and control siloed approach.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspective on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

1 reply
  1. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Your observations are absolutely accurate, Peter. They point to a resurgent theme: beware of managing new technologies (and the people responsible for them) with old management techniques, and history is replete with examples that support your remarks.

    I am reminded of a similar evolutionary shift in the late 90’s, as “the Web” shifted from an avant-garde university development to an info-commerce platform. Software programmers became “web developers” just as IT architects have become Cloud Architects today, career titles exemplifying a change in the direction of an entire industry.

    Initially, those early projects were managed hierarchically (the norm) until it was learned that successful Web projects required a matrix-style, cross-functional and inter-departmental team composition. In the elastic enterprise (Enterprise 2.0), strategic planning and governance must shift again, this time extending beyond corporate boundaries to include the entire ecosystem of partners, providers, and subject-matter experts.

    One of the lessons we learned from that evolutionary transition that needs to be re-learned today: organizational dissonance such as that described in your essay requires a “coming together” of the people in order for the systems and data to “come together” in a coherent way. Collaboration is not solved by software – it must first become a binding cultural principle. Partnership isn’t a portal or a platform – it must first begin with a trusted relationship dedicated to a shared goal.

    As I’ve said so often to Geoffrey several times over the course of the past decade, the network is not the platform: WE are the platform. That’s when collaborative partnerships take root, bloom, and bear fruit.


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