In the turbulence of change, do you bunker down or build windmills?

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Written by Russell Haworth, Chair of Digital Leaders

Digital transformation excites CEO’s, yet sparks a worldwind of change throughout a business. In an environment where we could bunker down in the winds of change, fortune favour those making windmills.
Today, more than three quarters (77%) of UK CEOs plan to increase their investment in digital transformation over the next year – according to PwC’s 24th Annual Global CEO Survey report. This digital imperative to evolve has been accelerated by the pandemic as companies implement changes across supply chains and customer or employee engagement channels.
Moving to the cloud, mining data for insights, adopting machine learning, investing in software development and keeping the organization secure are just some of the tasks that digital transformation entails…and it ain’t easy.

Attracting and retaining the skills needed at an operational level is hard – research by Nominet found that the average tenure of a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is less than 2 years in the UK – shorter than a premier league football manager. Sadly, that tenure is common across sys admin, dev ops, big data and data science. The pools to draw on are small too, across these roles nearly three quarters (78%) are male and nearly half (48%) have less than seven years’ experience.
The next layer of experience and skills for digital transformation is the senior leadership team. Whether in industry or government, many senior leaders didn’t learn their trade as a native technology leader, and there is a certain amount of learning and leading on the job.

Take one aspect of digital transformation as an example, the cloud. A recent MIT Technology Review survey found that 61% of the 300 business leaders polled said that they were increasing their investment in cloud technologies as a direct result of the pandemic. In the past, cloud computing was considered a tactical cost-reduction ploy. Now the benefits are more to enable businesses to grow revenue, and this requires good use of data.
Transformative change starts with an ambitious vision set by the CEO. In my own experience setting a timeline and milestones is key – at Nominet we set a 1,000 day plan with 10 sprints of 100 days, where the business had key goals to achieve that cascaded across the business.

Executing on the vision will required investments in technology and decisions on strategy – which are increasingly converging. As such, a good knowledge of how technologies – like the cloud – can be used to drive a competitive advantage – is vital. The strategic importance of a CTO in this context is increasing. They are often at the helm of determining the technological choices and execution of a digital transformation – educating and influencing peers on the journey.
Particularly in larger businesses digital transformation programs are led by new role – the Chief Transformation Officer, or Chief Digital Officer. These roles help to give focus and accountability in three key ways: (i) crafting the digital strategy and charting the roadmap for change, (ii) updating agile methodologies to accelerate delivery and (iii) engaging with customers.
Good governance and decision making also require a board who are technically proficient.

Digital transformation is about how an organization uses technology to better compete. As the word “transformation” implies, long-term success frequently requires more than just allocating funds to various initiatives. Boards play a critical role in the digital transformation journey by bringing judgment, healthy scepticism, and concern for long-term value. Some boards may need their own transformation if they are going to draw on relevant experiences. Boards scrutinising plans for a push into IoT or AI should know the questions to ask around cyber security, data security, execution risks and KPI’s for progress.
So, whether its finding the doers, the leaders or the governors of the digital transformation, it’s a hill to climb and you need a reliable compass to get there! Good luck.

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