9 months Opinion Pieces

The Cultural Basis for Digital Disruption

At our upcoming CIO Spotlight event (details here) we'll be discussing how firms are 'Mastering the Art of Digital Disruption' and placing innovation centre-stage to drive game-changing results to their organisation. It's a topic that has always fascinated me as, to get it right, a number of stars must align.

Firstly, organisations doing this well have an outside-in focus, they are truly customer-obsessed and are willing to make changes to deliver on their promises. Secondly, there must be a tech-savvy board led by a tech-savvy CEO. This powerful group must subscribe to the view that the future is digitally-fuelled and must recalibrate their leadership and decision-making processes to reflect this. Last but not least, firms must have business savvy and customer obsessed departments who are able to link what they do, day-to-day, at all levels to generate value in some shape or form. About the most powerful of these departments is IT/Digital - few others can have quite the impact it can when all cylinders are firing.

Chris Lord, CTO at Babcock International Group, discusses the pitfalls of what he terms 'Transformation Lite' in his earlier article. He suggests that too many organisations want to talk about transformation but attempt to minimise the cost or retain core elements of existing organisational processes, tools or structure. He will be expanding his thoughts and his tips to upgrade to 'full transformation' during our upcoming CIO Spotlight and his focus is on the culture within the organisation.

Culture is the glue that binds a firm to its customers - but also pulls people and departments together towards a common goal. It's wrong to view it as ethereal or as a soft discipline that you'll get to - if you have time. It must be interwoven into everything you do. As management guru Peter Drucker pointed out 'Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast' - and strategies to disrupt and innovate are not immune from being attacked by the wrong culture. Here I have identified three ways that the right culture can be instilled so that, as CIOs, you can do more than pay lip service to digital transformation - you can truly deliver it.

Customer Obsession

Our customers today whether internal or external are expecting more and more. To meet their ever-changing needs and wants, modern organisations need to become 'customer-obsessed'. External customers, for example, can be fickle and often flit between brands, products and where to buy them. Brand loyalty was once enough to wallpaper over any cracks that existed, but this isn't the case anymore.

Your customers have become value-obsessed and so firms offering them more of what they want, when they want it, will win out in the end. As mentioned above, this is an outside-in perspective that is based on sentiment analysis, competitive analysis and data analysis. Finding gaps and fissures is the order of the day and to address them as you see fit (which can include ignoring them - if that's the best decision). However, if it's a gap that truly needs filling - every cog and piston in the customer-obsessed organisation must be fired-up and technology is very often involved in driving the necessary changes. This is where tech-savvy leadership is essential.

Tech-Savvy Leadership

Boards are one of the biggest determinants of true success in the fields of digital transformation, disruption and innovation. Many current boards are made up executives that have served their firms in the pre-digital era when IT was an enabler, or a pure cost - rather than a source of new value. These opinions can form a tremendous hurdle to digital change as every idea will seem like a thinly-veiled request for money and where examples of wasted expenditure from the past can rear up to kill the business case.

Tech-savvy leadership then, begins with board composition - led by the CEO. The CEO must ensure that there is little room for past failures to derail future success by allowing the wrong voices too much airtime. Every member, ideally, will believe that IT has the biggest ability to add-value to the business and its customers if executed effectively. Previously this has meant establishing strong platforms for eCommerce, ERP or Supply Chain - now all of these areas are to be impacted by next-generation technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and others. Some forward-thinking firms are already appointing directors and NEDs who are specialists in these areas to advise on the threats and opportunities this will give rise to.

Vertical and Horizontal Alignment in IT

Driving digital change requires sponsorship from the top, but that alone is not enough. CIOs must ensure that the culture within IT is also recalibrated for customer-obsession. Being customer-obsessed is also about the whole business moving at speed and running as efficiently as possible. It's not simply a case of having the shiniest eCommerce experience - the business processes behind the scenes must run like a well-oiled machine also.

This requires cross-departmental working, as well as having the deep technical expertise within IT to proactively (and reactively) handle new customer demands. In the digital era much capability is software driven and success rests on the premise that it works precisely as intended, first-time-around. This will involve an inward look at people, processes and technology to support the delivery of quality software at speed - using techniques from DevOps and Quality Engineering in order to do so.

IT needs to play a lead role in readying the organisation for digital disruption and as suggested by Craig Ambler, IT Director at Center Parcs'; 'Simply running the same operation when you have transformed your digital will not give you the commercial edge or results expected'. We'll be joined by Craig and Chris as well as Cathal Corcoran, CIO at Gatwick Airport at out next CIO Spotlight on February 22nd in London - you can find out more about this event and register for your place here.

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