In the digital world, good questions lead to better answers

It’s hard to argue that the speed and diversity of disruptive digital technologies doesn’t present a potential existential threat to companies of all sizes across all industries. While many organizations are still struggling to come to grips with this new competitive reality, many other are rushing off in multiple directions with multiple initiatives trying to get ahead of them or fend them off.

In the digital world, knowing is as important as doing

Almost every C-level executive I speak with tells me they are so busy doing their business that they have no time to think about their business. Whether it’s the back-to-back to back meeting calendars or the explosion of digital communication tools from e-mail to texting to Twitter, executives at all levels are completely overwhelmed by the demands on their time and their schedules.

In the digital world, success requires a willingness to pivot

It’s virtually impossible to read anything business related today and not run across a call to arms for digital transformation. While there is still significant debate about what is digital transformation, one common denominator is that it represents a major shift in how a company delivers value to its customers, employees, supply chain partners and other key stakeholders.

In the new digital world, success requires a whole new game plan

The unprecedented assault of multiple waves of digital technology disruption from cloud, social, mobile, anything as a service, data analytics, machine learning and smart devices have enabled companies of any size to penetrate some portion of well-established companies’ value chains. To successfully compete in this new competitive paradigm will require companies to come up with a whole new game plan on how to organize, operate and go-to-market as a digital enterprise.

In the new digital world, you can’t succeed on your own

As I wrote in an earlier blog, historically companies believed that owning and controlling assets was the key to creating sustainable competitive advantage and building high barriers to entry into their markets and industries. However, in the new age of digital disruption, companies no longer have the capital, resources and capacity to own and operate all the assets they need to compete against well-constructed and well-orchestrated business partner ecosystems.

In the new digital world, business innovation is the new competitive imperative.

The results of KPMG’s 2016 Global CEO study delivered some very compelling evidence of how important it is for companies to leverage business innovation for their competitive advantage.

-66% of CEO’s believe that their business is at an inflection point and the next three years will be more critical than the last 50 years.
-40% of CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies within the next four years.
-70% of CEOs said it’s important to specifically include innovation in their business strategies.
-80% of CEOs are concerned that their existing products and services may not be relevant in 3 to 5 years’ time.
-70% of CEOs believe their organizations’ cultures do not encourage risk-taking and safe-to-fail environments.

In the new digital world, technology will drive companies into adjacent industries and new businesses

The Harvard Business Review conducted a five-year study of corporate growth involving 1,850 companies. The study reached two major conclusions:

The most sustained, profitable growth came from companies that pushed the boundaries of their core business into adjacent space.
Companies consistently and profitably outgrew their competitors by expanding those boundaries in predictable and repeatable ways.

In the new digital world, you have to improve your organization’s digital acumen

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In the age of digital disruption, traditional ways of creating sustainable competitive advantage are no longer effective. The adoption of the new suite of digital technologies including social, mobile, cloud, data analytics is the new competitive imperative for success. Simply put, if you don’t significantly improve your organization’s digital acumen your competitive viability is at risk.

Most companies are lagging in adopting digital technologies

This year’s Harvey Nash/KPMG Survey of 4500 technology leaders found that only 18 percent said their company was effectively using digital technologies to advance their business strategy.

The 2017 New Rules for the Digital Age report from Deloitte found that only 5 percent of the companies surveyed said they have strong digital leadership development programs and 65 percent said that had no significant programs to drive digital leadership skills.

The chart below highlights the breadth, scope and impact of these new disruptive digital technologies:

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Bridge the digital technology gap

In order to improve your organization’s digital acumen, you have to get very good a leveraging digital technologies’ to:

  • Mine and interpret multiple data sources to make critical business decisions faster and more accurately
  • Optimize underlying business processes and functionality and convert them to digital processes
  • Anticipate what you need to do to deliver the ultimate customer engagement digital experiences
  • Provide your employees with digital workflow tools and resources to make them more productive and effective
  • Establish your brand as a pioneer in the new digital frontier

Identify what you need to learn to become a digital technology savvy organization

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Many companies today don’t have any formal process or initiative in place to expand their knowledge and understanding of the competitive impact digital technologies can have on their businesses. As such, they are often caught off-guard by these disruptive changes and find themselves scrambling for survival.

Here are some ideas to consider to avoid this situation:

  • The CEO should engage the C-suite and the Board in a series of discussions to agree upon the appropriate digital transformation strategy for the company and the plan to implement it.
  • Establish a digital technology learning network comprised of internal and external resources that can facilitate ongoing dialogues about when and how these technologies can impact your company’s performance.
  • Conduct periodic briefings and workshops for the Board, C-Suite, Operating Units and Functional Support Groups to introduce and socialize specific digital technology initiatives and programs.

Build a digital acumen roadmap 

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Most successful transformational journeys start with a concise well documented roadmap that highlights the desired outcomes and a timeline for critical deliverables. I think the core framing questions for this digital transformation roadmap are:

  • How does our company become a digital enterprise without compromising our customer relationships, our brand value proposition and our employees’ well-being?
  • How does our company look and operate as a digital enterprise?
  • How open is our culture to changing the way we do business?

Assemble a cross-functional digital transformation team

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Once you’ve agreed to the digital strategy, you can then put together a dedicated cross-functional team to develop the roadmap and implementation plan. Unlike most planning exercises, this work cannot be done within vertical functional silos but rather must draw upon a diverse set of skills from across the entire organization. A study conducted by MIT and Deloitte found that 70% of digitally mature companies are organized around cross-functional teams versus just 28% for companies in the early stages of digital development.

To be clear, this work is not about improving the last best version of your old business model, it’s about creating the first best version of your new business model.

The good news is that you don’t have to do everything at once. You can and should identify specific parts of your business that present the best opportunities to conduct a series of pilot experiments where you can learn fast and make changes based on actual customer actions.

Here are some questions to start that process:

  • What part of our business has the highest competitive risk from a digital technology disruption?
  • What do we need to do to mitigate this competitive risk?
  • What resources can we redirect away from our current businesses to develop and launch a digital business?

Clearly a transformative change of this scope and magnitude is not undertaken lightly and requires:

  • The desire and resolve to explore new ways of doing business and letting go of the old ways of doing business.
  • Being willing to assemble a digital learning ecosystem of resources from both within and outside your organization.
  • A commitment to building a culture of continuous learning and experimentation.
  • Making increasing digital acumen a formal leadership competency for hiring and promotions.
  • Complete alignment and support for the new digital game plan from the Board all the way through the entire organization.

I have had the opportunity to work with several CIOs and their C-Suite colleagues on this issue and seen first-hand the benefits increasing digital acumen can bring to any organization. As such, if you are thinking about tackling these issues within your company, please reach out to me as I would be happy to share the approach we’ve taken and the results we’ve achieved.

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

In the New Digital World, Good Enough is No Longer Good Enough

“There’s never been a better time to be a great CIO or a worse time to be an average one.”

This quote from George Westerman, a leader of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, sends a clear message that good enough is no longer good enough. CIOs who still feel their primary job is to maintain the systems of record (SOR) that “run the business” are viewed as just average. While CIOs who develop and deploy systems of engagement (SOE) and systems of intelligence (SOI) that “change the business” are seen as making a critically essential contribution to the future competitive success of their organizations as digital enterprises.

To be perfectly clear this is not an either-or proposition but rather a both-and proposition. The key is to reverse the way IT resources are allocated.

What does average look like?

Most IT budgets still allocate 80% of their resources to running the business and 20% to changing the business. The emerging reality is that every dollar invested in SOR-support systems and software produces a diluted return to the company in terms of competitive differentiation. The reason being that 95% of the lifetime value of these investments has already been received. As such, they no longer deliver competitive differentiation.

By contrast, every dollar invested in SOE and SOI systems and software offer a much higher revenue and profit stream because they will be the primary source of future competitive advantage in the new digital era. To go from average to great you have to start by redeploying IT resources away from low value / low return activities to high value / high return activities.

What does great look like?

Historically IT has been viewed as a cost center support function whose primary responsibility is to build and maintain secure and stable platforms and tools that “keep the lights on.” While it is still essential to securely maintain these systems of record, in the new digital era it is now a competitive imperative that IT evolves into a business enablement role that leverages digital technology innovations which deliver increased revenues, margins, and profits. Simply put, IT has to move from the back seat to the front seat to the driver’s seat.

What are some CIOs doing to be great?

Ed McLaughlin, CIO at Mastercard, says “you really have to cease thinking of technology as a cost center. Technology is one of the primary assets of the business. So, you move away from thinking in terms of implementation projects, and more about how to run ongoing programs and get a feedback loop where you’re constantly optimizing those assets.” He and his leadership team are constantly asking two questions:

  • How do you optimize new value creation?
  • How do you optimize processes that make it easier to onboard customers and provide customer support?

Deanna Wise, CIO at Dignity Health, says “partnerships with the business, being innovative and seeing how you can drive a better customer experience does translate into revenue. There are a lot of forward-thinking CIOs who ask …what new programs and new initiatives can we use to drive revenue throughout the business?” According to Wise, “CIOs who fail to ask these questions do so at their peril. If IT is perceived as a cost in your organization and you do nothing to change that…you’ve made IT a commodity, and commodities can always be replaced.”

Jim Fowler, CIO at GE, thinks that if you want to turn enterprise technology into a source of monetary value and not just an expense, data is a great place to start. He says that monetary value “in the next ten years is going to come from connecting the value stream of information in a business, information about products, all the data coming off machines, and turning it into signals that will help automate work.”

Vijay Sankaran, CIO at TD Ameritrade, says that for him and his IT team “…design thinking is huge. It has become a critical tool in the pursuit of roboadvisers, chatbots and other customer-facing technologies intended to drive revenue growth.” Design thinking has helped Sankaran’s team visualize the client experience for applications they are building so they can fully understand their value along all the different customer touch points.

Wayne Shurts, CIO at Sysco, says “the burden is on the CIO to make the case that IT is concerned with more than cyber and risk management and it’s more than a cost center. The role of the CIO isn’t to go to the board to discuss every project. It’s to talk about how technology should operate across the organization and how investments support that.”

What can you do to assess where you stand today?

A good starting point to assess where your IT team stands today is to conduct a trapped value audit. This audit starts by determining what percentage of your IT resources and budget are allocated to run the business functions in the left-hand column in the chart below versus change the business functions in the right-hand column. Once you’ve established your resource allocation baseline, you can then begin a systematic review of how you can redeploy resources and budget from the left-hand column to the right-hand column. I am currently working with a CIO and his senior leadership team who have made very measurable progress moving their resource allocations and budgets from 76% – 24% to 60% – 40% in just one year.

What do you want the IT brand to stand for in your company?

As the examples above clearly illustrate, CIOs who aspire to be great have identified very specific ways to demonstrate the impact and value technology brings to their organizations. They have embraced this era of digital disruption as a new leadership challenge and an opportunity to redefine what the IT brand stands for in their companies, including:

  • A higher percentage of IT resources allocated to change-the-business outcomes
  • A significant improvement in time to value and throughput for all development initiatives
  • A strong alignment between future technology investments and critical business outcomes
  • A direct contributor to delivering increased revenues, margins and profits

While each CIO’s journey from average to great may take different paths, it seems clear that they all start with the recognition that good enough is no longer good enough.

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