For the last year, I’ve been opening my CIO conversations with the question: “Is your executive committee on the same page regarding what ‘digital’ means to your company?” For the first few months, the answer was no. To CEOs and their teams, the definition of digital varied from technology, to a new business, to a strategy, to a function.
More recently, however, I am finding that executive committees have solidified their understanding of digital, and are baking it into their strategy and vision. For those of you still working out your company’s own definition of digital, I offer you excerpted comments from CIOs I have interviewed and whose executive committees have clarity about how digital impacts their business strategy.
“We are very specific about what digital means to Avery Dennison. Being digital is about having the ability and desire to exploit emerging technologies for better business outcomes. We have the ambition to use emerging technologies both to optimize and transform our business.” —Nick Colisto, CIO, Avery Dennison
“Digital is all about how we reach the customer. Traditionally, Western Union has been known as a cash business; our goal now is to digitize the customer experience wherever we can. Customers who want to send cash still need to come into a retail location, but we are allowing them to do much of the pre-work online, so their experience in the store is fast and efficient. We measure the success of our digital transformation by tracking the channels our customers choose to use: web, phone, or an agent location. Our transition to digital is all about giving the customer convenience, simplicity, and options.” —Sheri Rhodes, CTO, Western Union (formerly, now CIO at Workday)
“For Lenovo, digital ranges from basic process optimization, to using technology to unlock new business models, to creating new products, and delivering more empowering customer experiences. We believe in the increasing importance of artificial intelligence for businesses going forward and have been using the term “Intelligent Transformation” — applying technology, especially AI, in all of the areas of the business to tap into the exploding amounts of data that are becoming more available throughout the enterprise and ecosystem.” —Arthur Hu, CIO, Lenovo:
“We’ve adopted the MIT Center for Information System Research definition of digital: Digital strategy is business strategy that is completely dependent upon specific sets of technologies. These technologies could include data analytics, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud, or customer experience-related technologies such as mobile, web and social media. For Principal, digital means taking these specific technologies and applying them to business strategy.” —Gary Scholten, CIO and CDO, Principal Financial Group
“For us, digital is technology-enabled innovation and transformation — from delivering to consumers who shop digitally to our cloud enabled infrastructure, and everything in between. Digital is marketing in the right place, time, and context for the consumer, whether that’s social, email, or some other channel. We need to be on the digital shelf and meet consumers wherever they are. When it comes to digitizing processes, we look for friction because where there is friction, there is opportunity.” —Mindy Simon, CIO, Conagra Brands
“For Campbell, it is very clear: Digital transformation is about leveraging IT in four ways:
Optimize our internal operations.
Empower our employees to be more efficient and effective; exceed their technology needs and make their IT experiences easy.
Integrate our ecosystem of employees, partners, suppliers, and customers.
Engage our consumers.
“These highly business-relevant areas cannot stand on thin air; they all rely on a digital foundation, which includes an agile IT architecture that is resilient, secure, and cost effective. We have migrated most of our applications to the cloud, including our ERP, which runs completely in a public cloud.” —Francisco Fraga, CIO, Campbell Soup Company
“Digital industrial leadership is transforming the industrial world. For us, data and analytics are fundamentally changing the way work gets done in our business and in the oil and gas industry as we prepare for the next big step-change in productivity. As an example, we are using artificial intelligence on the shop floor to understand what drives disruptive, unscheduled downtime of our welding machines. When information technology meets operations technology, we learn what behaviors or indicators lead up to that unplanned downtime. We can use predictive analytics to do preventive maintenance and improve our productivity.” —Jennifer Hartsock, CIO, Baker Hughes, a GE Company
For most companies, digital is a focus on the customer and on employee productivity, fueled by data and a digital first architecture. If your executive committee is having trouble embedding digital into its vision, customers and data are a good place to start.
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.