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Creating a Digital Transformation Engine

I was recently asked what I would say in ten minutes to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company about Digital Transformation.

It would be tempting to talk about the digital generation, mobility, the rise of social, the wisdom of the crowd, big data or any number of other important themes. Yet I think the question they would really like an answer to is: ‘How do I adapt my organisation to reap the benefits of digital and drive business value?'

Amongst the growing body of literature discussing digital disruption and transformation, most examples are of start-ups doing the disruption. It has been suggested that 2014 will be the year enterprises become the disruptors. Much is talked about leadership, agility and culture, however to date I’ve found little that pulls this together into a response that would answer the CEO's enquiry.

I believe there are three key elements to the Digital Engine – DIGITAL LEADERS, DIGITAL NATIVES and DIGITAL ENABLERS.

DIGITAL LEADERS are unlikely to be a mythical Chief Digital Officer riding in to save the day. As retail giants fall, banks lose direct control of their customers and new brands rapidly gain influence, leaders are starting to say ‘We must seize the initiative’. A new more disruptive leadership style is emerging in CEO, CMO and CIO roles.

Many have stopped seeing themselves as stewards for the status quo, and are instead looking to be brave and experimental in order to seize the digital initiative. However in most cases they lack the inherent, intuitive knowledge of digital that is vital to finding the right ideas for success.

DIGITAL MAKERS are digital natives, already using social, mobile and web applications throughout their daily lives. They think nothing of scanning a QR code to compare the price of products in store, viewing a tourist vista through their mobile phone to get augmented reality factoids, or broadcasting their daily experiences on social platforms.

These people exist in every organisation and are eager to innovate. However in all but the most forward thinking organisations, these individuals are dispersed across organisational silos, and are often deeply frustrated by the pace of change.

Leaders must seek out these digital natives, bring them together and encourage them to innovate and experiment. A uniting mantra for these teams is to consider customer needs first. A close-knit, liberated team will use the power of cloud based tools, simple development environments and agile delivery approaches to quickly create, trial and adapt new customer-centric solutions. These makers will focus on saying why things can and should be done, rather than being intimidated by traditional barriers.

DIGITAL ENABLERS may not be digital natives, but they are your business’ natives. They understand your products and services, your systems and data and of course the rules and regulations that govern what you do. These are probably the biggest body of people within an organisation and without them, digital transformation will fail.

Digital enablers are likely at first to come to the table focusing on the reasons you can’t do things. Disruptive leaders will drive a change in culture, encouraging these people to turn their understanding of the business challenges into new ways of working and imaginative solutions to the problems they face. Ultimately this will lead to the delivery of flexible, scalable underlying systems, services, content and the policies needed to turn short term innovations into sustainable success.

A business that has built a digital engine based on disruptive leadership thinking, the powerful digital enablement of core services, and an innovative team of digital makers empowered to create uniquely simple customer-centric solutions, will be well on the way to deriving real competitive advantage from the digital revolution.