Who’s In Charge of Digital Transformation? You Are!

I’m an innovation evangelist with SAP. Each year, I present at about 50 conferences around the world, talking to business and IT audiences about the impact of the latest technologies.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I’ve recently noticed a change.

When I talk about topics such as analytics and big data, audiences are clearly looking for lessons learned that they can apply to their own organizations.

But now many of my presentations are about digital transformation, and the reaction has been subtly different.

Audiences are still very interested in hearing real-life stories about organizations that have embarked on digital transformation. But the feedback is less “how can I make that work for me?” and more “wow, that’s interesting! I wonder who’s going to do that in my company?!”. In other words, they think it’s important — for somebody else.

It’s a big difference, because digital business is a big deal. IDC believes that by the end of this year, two-thirds of global companies will have digital transformation at the center of their corporate strategy. And these transformations are changing how companies operate, calling into question the role of today’s IT in tomorrow’s business innovations.

CIOs have always been told to get closer to the business — but now their very survival may depend upon it. New executive titles such as “Chief Data Officer” are proliferating, and Gartner says there are two different types of CIOs emerging: the “Chief Innovation Officers” who spearhead the technology-led business models of the future — and the “Chief Infrastructure Officers” who are relegated to looking after the IT plumbing.

IDC’s research shows that digital business has thus far relied on a culture of experimentation and innovation driven primarily by the business and shadow IT — and this is set to continue. For example, Gartner says that in 2017 — for the first time ever — the average Chief Marketing Officer will spend more on technology than the average CIO. These funds are being used to create “islands of innovation” outside the realm of core IT, creating standalone cloud or mobile applications for customer experience, new analytical applications or new internet of things use cases.

The key challenge for traditional CIOs is that these innovation use cases have tended to deliver new revenue streams and significant business value. Instead of “just” enabling business processes and services, technology now creates new ecosystem platforms for partners and new product offers for customers.

This has emphasized the differences between the revenue-generating agile digital business teams and “costly, slow, and inflexible” core IT systems. But the easy innovation wins are coming to an end and consumer expectations are rising. IDC emphasizes that in next phase of digital transformation, having a strong company-wide digital platform will separate the “thrivers” from the “survivors”.



But business leaders and shadow IT have an awful track record when it comes to taking innovation from internal project silos and turning it into a robust corporate standard. The core skills of traditional IT are essential for the next phase of digital transformation success. But IT staff need to step up and lead the creation of these new platforms, not just wait for the business to come to them with fully-formed plans.

You may think of yourself as providing data services and support to business users, and that it’s their job to change the way the company does business. But they can’t do it without you. Managing data is the most important strategic skill in your organization, and business people just don’t have the expertise required.

So who’s responsible for digital transformation in your business? You are!

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