Digital Xn,Digitization,

5 Things CEOs Should Focus On For Driving Digital Transformation

This Analyst Note evaluates the need for adoption of emerging deep digital technologies by various corporations and recommends five key principles for adoption of Digital Transformation.

Digital Transformation – The process of using various digital technologies to work in sync and add value to a company’s internal processes and offerings – is fast evolving to be a key item of every company CEO’s strategic plans. Regardless of the industry, digital technologies are making their way and offering tangible value for every organization.

And, the emerging technologies including data analytics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual realities are evolving rapidly and disrupting the existing playbooks of all companies across industries by enhancing value, and in many cases shifting the paradigm, and providing invaluable competitive edge to the adopters.

In such a scenario, adopting these technologies and implementing them in a custom manner in order to benefit an organization and its way of working and/or offerings becomes an imperative. And, since CEOs have the holistic view and responsibility to steer their organizations not only to stay relevant and competitive, but to emerge as leaders are increasingly taking up the responsibility of Digital Transformation of their companies under their own belt.

Although there exist innumerable methods and combinations of emerging digital technologies to add value to an organization’s Digital Transformation initiatives (and, the combination varies in every single instance), there exist five fundamental tenets or principles for CEOs that act as pillars for Digital Transformation projects regardless of the company, industry or technology of use:

1. Valuing Data: We have evolved from the Industrial era through the Information age and are entering the Intelligence era. And, data is the oxygen for powering the new-age solutions and adding value to every organization’s existence and growth. Going forward, every company will be a data company – it will either collect, need, use or generate data. And, digital technologies, primarily led by Advanced Analytics, Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) can generate tremendous value out of various data attributes inside an organization. In such a scenario, establishing various touch points to collate data and solutions that can synthesize it and commissioning teams to derive value out of it through innovative and creative revenue and business models becomes an imperative at the highest level of the organization and is something that needs to be closely monitored and led by the CEO’s office.

2. Data Privacy and Security: There’s a popular saying in the cyber security world – “There are two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those that don’t yet know that they have been hacked”. Jokes apart, enterprise networks getting hack, data breaches and stealth is a new norm and companies need to protect its own and its customers data. Every organization- big and small - including Sony, Under Armour, Facebook, Orbitz, Aadhar, etc., have witnessed data breaches in the recent past. Apart from data breaches, data analysis for the purposes of manipulation like witnessed in the case of Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal also needs to be protected against.  Considering, in the context of collation and usage by various entities, data has multiple forms – collected, compiled, derived, generated, profiled, etc. – and, an average citizen being fairly under-educated on all the forms and their potential use, the company and it’s CEO office, at least in the early days, needs to protect the customer’s rights and lessen the burden on the individual. This needs to be done with a combination of technology and policy frameworks.

3. Think Big, Start Small, Act Fast!: Most of the incumbent players across industries are large, global organizations. And, the current multiple digital technologies-led innovations potentially impact almost all of their business offerings, processes and operations. Admitting that the current and emerging digital technologies are here to stay and change the face of their business and industry forever, the incumbent players should develop a new long-term vision for themselves and a Digital Transformation roadmap to achieve that vision.

Having established such a vision, the players should start small by developing and deploying new-age technology based Digital Transformation projects within a specific function/business process/geography. And, most importantly, they need to act fast by learning from their initial pilot projects and evolving them across an area, and eventually across the organization in a systemic, yet fast manner. And, this needs to be driven top-down from the CEO level.

4. Deploy Skunkworks Teams: From a five-member team that worked on the developing the iconic RAZR within Motorola to the six-member team that worked on direct, internet-based streaming of movies at Netflix (while the company was a big player in DVD rentals), small – five-to-eight member – teams comprising of professionals with varied and complimentary skills sets, and with relatively easy access to resources and autonomy, working in a startup mode within a large organization have managed to re-invent and re-invigorate the fates of companies and industries many times. There are many examples of such turnarounds and evolutions across industries.

As established incumbent companies across industries embark on a technology-led re-discovery and overhaul in the form of Digital Transformation, they should adopt the skunkworks model for developing and deploying technology solutions in order to stay relevant and competitive in future.

5. Open Innovation and Collaboration: In order to maintain and grow value in the current times of Digital Transformation, established players need to look to collaborate more closely with others (especially, young startups) in different industries and with different outlooks to identify new ways to generate value. No single company is big, fast or innovative enough to do it all on its own. 

For large organizations, this translates as a process of engaging with external technology solutions, knowledge capital and resources early on in an innovation process. Often it involves opening up the organization’s own intellectual property (IP), assets and expertise to outside innovators to help generate new ideas, change organizational culture, identify and attract new skills, and discover new areas for growth, and most importantly, being agile. This can be in the form of incubator and accelerator programs and venture investing arms.

An edited version of this Analyst Note has been published as an Op-Ed in Mint on 1st October, 2018.