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Digital Transformation: “It Isn’t a Technology Thing”

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According to IDC, global organizations will spend $1.2 trillion on digital transformation this year.

“Changing competitive landscapes and consumerism are disrupting businesses and creating an imperative to invest in digital transformation, unleashing the power of information across the enterprise and thereby improving the customer experience, operational efficiencies, and optimizing the workforce,” says Eileen Smith, program director in IDC’s Customer Insights & Analysis Group. 

Clearly, CIOs are going to be walking a tightrope as digital transformation unfolds, and finding a balance between managing essential legacy systems while shifting funds to digital systems of engagement will be a formidable challenge.

It’s one of the reasons why Gartner advocates a “post-modern ERP” model that optimizes core investments and focuses new investments where they can have the most impact and drive competitive advantage. That’s going to take some effort, though.

So what, exactly, are the most important skills and strategies that IT leaders need to tackle digital transformation? That’s the question we posed recently to members of the IDG Influencer Network. Their consensus: Digital transformation will require a lot more than just technology.

“Overwhelmingly, in an age of unprecedented change, we aren’t struggling with the technical system but the human system, and what IT leadership requires is the ability to unlearn and relearn, to forget what we think we know and learn from what is working,” said Greg Bledsoe (@geek_king), Managing Consultant at Accenture. “We're still trapped in a 100-year-old legacy management system designed for factory workers and static markets, and most haven't even started questioning whether this is the only way, much less if this is the best way. The ability to move with the times and question our own foundational beliefs about how we manage the work and the people is the most important skill.”

That sentiment was echoed by several members of the Influencer Network.

“Digital transformation isn’t a technology thing,” said Kevin Jackson (@Kevin_Jackson), Director of Cloud Solutions and Technology Fellow at Engility Corp. “It’s about changing minds, attitudes, perceptions, and vision. That makes the most important skills and strategies centered on communication, education, and change management.”

“Technology is important, but focusing too much on technology at the expense of adapting the human behavior and expectations of your personnel is a recipe for disaster,” observed Craig Mullins (@craigmullins), President of Mullins Consulting.

“IT leaders who seek to address digital transformation should count on the counter-intuitive,” stated David Geer (@geercom), Principal at Geer Communications. “They should love riding the crest of rapid, positive change. They should put people first and expect an emphasis on transformation, not technology.”

Flexibility and agility will be key

Also high on the list of “must-have” attributes: flexibility, agility, and a blurring of traditional boundaries.

“IT leaders . . . have to be driving the [digital strategy] with agile management practices, data and analytics capabilities, collaborative working environments, and nimble technology platforms,” said Isaac Sacolick (@nyike), President of StarCIO and author of Driving Digital.

“The most valuable skills are flexibility and awareness,” added Technology Journalist Jeff Cutler (@JeffCutler). “IT leaders need to be aware of the resources available to them and be flexible enough to implement new procedures.”

“IT leaders need to be flexible and be continuously learning,” said the Brain Blender Strategy Team (@BrainBlenderTec). “They need to be able to merge and work in tandem with artificial intelligence.”

“IT leaders must combine operational technology and informational technology teams together to drive value,” said Dan Yarmoluk (@YarmolukDan), Director of Business Development, IoT and Data Science at ATEK Access Technologies. “Technical people must attend to business problems more beyond the tech features, and business people must understand how to leverage technological changes as well.”  

Is hybrid IT here to stay?

Derek Britton (@DerekBrittonUK), Director of Strategy and Enablement at Micro Focus, thinks a hybrid IT model will be key.

“Recent industry surveys show only 5% believe they have mastered digital transformation, and the pace of change in the digital era means organizations have to increasingly rely on what already works,” Britton said. “The blend of skills and strategies will have to embrace systems that keep businesses running today, as well as the right technologies and skills to support digital growth on new IoT devices or platforms such as cloud. This is a hybrid IT model that combines the best new technologies and processes, such as DevOps, with trusted core systems such as COBOL applications and IT operations management.”

To harness all that digital transformation offers, the three most important skills IT leaders need are cloud, social, and security, stated Tony Flath (@TmanSpeaks), Principal Lead at TELUS Security.

“Cloud includes apps, virtual desktops, mobile, and IoT,” he said. “Social includes awareness, involvement, and market opportunity understanding. Security includes understanding the importance of security being the wrapper around everything digital.”

Finally, Writer and Technologist Steve Prentice (@StevenPrentice) identified four skill sets that will be necessary to embrace digital transformation: time management, critical thinking, project management, and change management.

The digital economy is all about fast innovation and getting new products to market more quickly than competitors. Want to learn more? Read Overcoming the #1 Barrier to Digital Transformation.