The rise of the digital enterprise

Is your company ready for a programmatic approach to digital?

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It’s become a drinking game. Every time someone says “digital enterprise,” you have to take a sip of beer. And every time someone refers to the CIO as the “Transformer in Chief” you have to down a shot of tequila (preferably Don Julio).

We should all be pretty well-lit by now. Executives and practitioners alike are buzzing about how to bring their companies into the digital age. What? Your company’s not considered a “digital native?” You’ve probably got more than your fair share of opportunities then.

In my book, The New IT: How Technology Leaders Are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill, 2015), I discuss the conundrum CIOs in particular face:

Far too many IT leaders never achieve the balance [between operations and innovation], ceding to tired expectations that they’ll keep employees happy and systems humming. As with anyone who’s struggled with shedding a few pounds, the self-talk focuses on what will happen once the weight has been shed. ‘Once I lose the weight, I’ll get back to the beach,” we reassure ourselves.

In digital-speak, this sounds like: ‘Once I [sunset the mainframe / outsource the billing system / get the new inventory system into production / hire a data scientist] we can start innovating.’ But new temptations get in the way, and we fall off the wagon. We may actually gain a few pounds, putting us even farther away from the beach.

Driving a digital strategy mandates change. The one key reliable incentive to get off the couch and onto the digital treadmill is the success of a competitor.

Of course there are other reasons to go digital besides competitive leapfrogging. Faster time to market, greater economies of scale, and an improved customer experience are only a few of them. All the more reason that the pressure is mounting for executives to start somewhere.

As an executive with a major software vendor I’m being called into executives’ offices to explore opportunities for digital and—by extension—the impact to adjacent analytics and data efforts. The questions we’re hearing most often from executives include:

  • Does “digital” automatically imply “enterprise?” Can lines of business deploy their own digital functions?
  • Is there a “playbook” for digital? What does it look like?
  • Our board is intermingling the terms “digital” and “innovation.” How does digital impact innovation, and vice versa?
  • What is the impact of analytics and data on digital?
  • Who should own digital?
  • How do we know if we really need a Chief Digital Officer?
  • Should I lobby for the role of Chief Digital Officer?
  • We have many different opportunities to leverage digital capabilities. How do we know where to start?
  • Are there any lessons learned that you could share? We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of others.

Of course, you could answer any and all of these questions with, “It depends on your corporate culture.” (I used to be a management consultant and threw around that response with abandon.) Realistically though, every company faces its own challenges deploying digital.

One digital best practice that seems to be gaining ground is the use of strategy mapping to elucidate and prioritize digital efforts. (See my post “Creating your digital playbook”)

As I explain in the book:

By letting business strategy drive digital initiatives, the company can avoid wholesale changes to its vocabulary and ensure that the business continues to own its own initiatives and measures. At the same time, IT organizations can position themselves as digitally savvy and distinctly valuable.

Questions for discussion and debate

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Ready to gauge your team’s awareness of the issues around digital? Here are some questions to kick off a rousing round of topics on digital—with or without the tequila shots:

1. How far along are you on your digital journey?

2. How directly is IT involved in that journey?

3. How did you / will you make the pitch?

4. Is digital a centralized or disparate effort?

5. Is there a formal or de-facto digital leader? If so, does he or she have the accompanying title?

6. Is there an awareness of the role that analytics will play in digital enablement?

7. Is there an awareness of the role that data will play in digital enablement?

8. Are you coupling or planning to couple digital with innovation?

9. What is your CEO’s and/or board’s involvement with new digital capabilities?

10. If you have indeed already delivered on the digital promise, what does the payoff look like?

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