by Christine Hodgson

The digital revolution is just beginning

Jul 01, 20123 mins
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

The digital revolution is impacting every business function in every sector, with the majority of CXOs and departmental managers becoming increasingly aware of the potential benefits.

– Marketing departments are keen to exploit social networking sites and new devices such as smartphones – Supply chain managers see the benefits of RFID tags to reduce logistics costs and more – Utilities see massive savings from smart meters that can be read remotely – R&D teams can enlist customers to help formulate new products – Manufacturers understand the productivity gains that come from the increased automation that digital technology enables

Such possibilities, across industries and functions, show the span and potential of the digital revolution. They also refute the idea, held by some companies, that because they have a transactional website up and running, their digital transformation is over.

They could not be more wrong: the digital revolution is only just beginning.

Businesses in all sectors need to appreciate that the digital wave is fuelling many fundamental changes in the way organisations innovate, produce, sell and serve, and in the way employees work, communicate and collaborate.

Standing at the sharp end of all these demands is the CIO. This means many cases multiple, simultaneous projects on an unprecedented scale.

So how are CIOs to cope with such demands, and what guidance should they give their colleagues across departments, and what ground-rules should they establish?

Speed is surely the prime requirement, and for two reasons.

– We live in a competitive world in which, if you don’t move fast to exploit digital potential, some at least of your rivals most certainly will, to your cost. – There is simply no substitute for experience: you need to try digital initiatives yourself to see what works and what doesn’t. If you spend twelve months investing in a grand strategy you will find yourself implementing a solution that is already a year out of date when your project begins.

But speed must be accompanied by maximum agility and flexibility. Make sure that your quick-start solution is one that readily lends itself to change, expansion and refinement as time goes on.

And remember that digital transformation is not an end in itself. It must be guided by clear managerial goals and realisable business benefits.

Once a clear vision has been established, digital transformation can help an organisation address its own most significant priorities, and start winning benefits in areas such as customer acquisition and retention, customer service, innovation, efficiency and productivity.

A good example of speed and flexibility is the UK government, which is powering ahead with its own digital revolution.

It announced its new Digital by Default policyin November 2010. It is a policy that UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox believes could save £2 billion a year while making life easier and better for the public.

Progress since then has been rapid, with the launch of the Government Digital Service in May 2011, with development powering ahead in 2012 on the single government services website, and with the DWP’s plan to launch the new universal credit in October 2013 as the government’s first fully ‘digital by default’ service.

With digital technology offering profound benefits to every business function in every sector, it is certain that CIOs will be central to the digital transformation which still has a long way to go.

It must surely be a prime responsibility of CIOs to ensure their CXO colleagues understand its full potential – and move fast, before their competitors steal a march on them.

Christine Hodgson is Chairman of Capgemini UK

Pic: RVWCC2,0