5 Questions with Domo CEO Josh James on Digital Transformation

The cloud-based software company’s CEO addresses findings from a recent study on the key principles of digital operating models

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The barriers to enterprise transformation—and how to break through them—are the focus of a new study commissioned by New York-based digital transformation specialists Mumford Sole Partners.

Domo CEO Josh James, whose cloud-based data platform has played a significant role in the digital transformation efforts of some of the world’s biggest companies, talks about one of the key elements of the research: To become digital, you’ve got to think digital.

First off, what’s your connection to Mumford Sole?

Mumford Sole is an advisor to Domo. What attracted us to them was founder Peter Sole. As former CEO of Gartner’s research board, he has a unique connection to CIOs at some of the world’s largest companies. As we looked to extend our reach, we knew we needed to connect more meaningfully with the people who are driving digital transformation through their organizations—and CIOs undoubtedly fall into that camp.

The report tackles a number of aspects of digital transformation. But let’s focus on the first aspect it addresses: To become digital, you’ve got to think digital. In short, that means seeing your company as a node in an ecosystem. How does that idea jive with how you think of digital transformation? 

There are several levels of maturity with digital transformation, and every company is in a different phase. Some are just now turning the lights on. Others are past that, and looking now at how to use data to not only make better decisions but to imagine new ways of how business gets done. What we see is that most companies have difficulty getting to the “imagine” stage because they’re so focused on how to solve their basic data problems. Once they do, however, they see doors open that they didn’t even know existed before.

The report holds up a company called Sweetgreen as an example of how ecosystem thinking can enable a business to be something greater than the sum of its parts. Sweetgreen has a mission, and technology helps the company deliver on that mission. Is that how you think of technology’s role in digital transformation—as a must-have but not the magic bullet?

Technology can help you achieve your goals, but before you go down any sort of road with technology, you’ve got to figure out what you’re trying to achieve, who you’re trying to become, etc. What we see, and have always believed in, is that the more data, people and systems you bring together, the more value you can create for your business. If you’re trying to solve a problem with only a portion of the data you’ve got, or with the wrong data, you’re not going to be as powerful as you could be. If you’re a company like Sweetgreen, and you find out that, say, spinach is down this season, you can change your menu and not disappoint customers. When there’s that kind of participation in a value chain, everyone wins.

The report also touches on the importance of transparency between all participants in a value chain. Why is that such a key part of the digital transformation equation?

If everyone is working off one version of the truth, then the conversations aren’t around whose data is better or worse, or right or wrong; they’re around scoring and winning.

Ultimately, the section of the report we’ve talked about makes clear that digital transformation can’t emanate from feeling the need to disrupt for the sake of disrupting. It has to come from understanding how to manage the ways in which value flows nowadays. How does this play into the conversations you’re having?

My conversations with CIOs and fellow CEOs vary based on where their organizations are at and where they want to be. With our customers who understand the value of leveraging data and technology, we see that once they get past questions like “Can I bring it all together?” and “Can I ensure it’s properly governed?” and “Can I get it into the hands of the people who need it?” their imaginations run wild and they enter this whole new world of possibilities. It’s awesome.

To see the entire first installment of Mumford Sole’s digital transformation report, Becoming Digital, click here.

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