Good afternoon! In today's edition, we asked a group of experts to talk to us about how executive teams should manage their time during digital transformation. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
President and CEO at Cohesity
Digital transformation strategies remain a top priority because of their direct impact on the efficiency and longevity of day-to-day operations. That’s why executives will likely need to spend at least 25% of their time prioritizing these initiatives — so they can fully realize the benefits in a timely manner to keep up with or surpass the competition.
But successful digital transformation means prioritizing both organizational structure and time allocation so leaders can understand which technologies are most valuable to adopt, while preparing for issues brought on by such projects. We’re seeing this today as more companies shift to hybrid and multicloud environments: Rising data volumes and cyber attacks are still prevalent, and teams are working together to navigate challenges while continuing to leverage digital transformation to both solve the cost and operational challenges today and future-proof for tomorrow. This goes to show that those who drive digital transformation do it best when they bring their existing operations team along for the journey.
Digital transformation and day-to-day operations should not be considered mutually exclusive. Many of the most impactful efforts uproot traditional operations and make way for more efficient, insightful, and sustainable practices. While it’s important to “keep the lights on,” there’s no better time to tap into the wealth of data and technology available today — and a moment wasted is one your competitors will gladly take from you.
The executive team should approach digital transformation much the same as it would any major initiative. It’s important to build a clear vision, milestones, and KPIs for success. Leadership also needs to be involved upfront in laying out a clear plan and communicating and evangelizing the strategy to all stakeholders throughout the organization — from your IT team deploying new applications to the men and women on the ground using them. In order to do this successfully, delegating ownership and empowering teams on execution is crucial, as buy-in across the organization fuels transformation.
Of course, regular checkpoints and reviews on progress through a closed-loop feedback process will ensure things are moving as they should, as well as identifying any tweaks that can be made to optimize efficiency.
There are only a handful of a leadership team’s operational functions which would be separate and distinct from those required for driving a successful digital transformation. The responsibility for true transformation isn’t limited to the CTO introducing process automation or modernizing a particular platform: It’s about designing for better customer and employee experience, optimizing internal operations through data-driven decision-making, shifting roles and responsibilities to prepare the organization for the future, and reimagining how services are provided to stakeholders. In addition to any technical platform advancements, a successful enterprise transformation requires a commitment to multiyear investment, talent development, reinforced stakeholder engagement, and introducing new ways of working. Once a foundation of continuous learning has been established, which is a key pillar of transformation for any organization, even the most commonplace operational functions become a feeder for data-driven analysis and serve as potential modernization candidates.
The most important thing for executives to keep in mind is that being digital is a “lifestyle” choice for your company; it needs to become fully integrated into all aspects, from vision and strategy to culture and structure to business processes and product development. So in that way, digital transformation and day-to-day operations eventually become synonymous, as digital technology and new ways of working drive change and agility.
Like any change that a company navigates, we believe that digital transformation should be a shared effort across the executive team. You can designate a leader, but their job will be to break down silos, get people working together, and empower teams — they won’t be able to do it on their own.
And it starts with the customer.
In our research, we found that most C-suite (92%) workers think they effectively put their customers at the center of everything, but customer needs drive only 56% of product development. The difficulty is making sure any assumptions about customer needs are correct: When asked about top CX priorities, companies and consumers were closely aligned on certain things, like security and access to data, but other areas showed significant deltas (in some cases as much as 32%) between company perception and actual customer priorities.
Being digital takes a team that understands there is no destination or deadline to unlock results. It’s making choices every day and in every aspect of your business — on behalf of the customer — that help you gain momentum to stay ahead of the competition.
EY Americas technology, media and telecommunications leader at EY
Realizing value from transformation at speed and at scale requires a very strong governance charter, executive sponsorship at the top, and a cross-organization, cross-function steering committee. With digital transformation, it is often organizational barriers, and not technology barriers, that become the hurdles to value realization. A strong governance will institute cross-org orchestration, remove decision-making barriers, and focus the efforts on end-to-end workflows as opposed to point solutions. When an organization gets into the digital transformation zone, the transformation should become the main priority of the executive team and not a side project. Its focus will allow the organization to execute the strategy with agility.
It’s easy to begin a digital transformation initiative and see it as a project that a business “bolts on.” In reality, a successful business embeds digital transformation into all aspects of an organization’s day to day operations, and the companies who make the most progress look at these as mutual instead of separate efforts.
This was reiterated in a recent PwC survey of C-level executives that found 83% of business executives are focusing their business strategy on growth with 53% of respondents increasing investments in digital transformation. These are not separate goals - they’re one element of the investment strategy (digital) required to achieve the other objective (growth).
As companies address ongoing labor shortages and adapt to hybrid and remote working trends, these digital investments are vital to ensure businesses remain efficient, productive and agile. Disciplined leaders are taking an honest look at every part of their business and setting realistic expectations alongside aspirational goals. Rather than executives investing in an alphabet soup of digital technologies, they should focus on the complementing efforts of standardization and innovation - aligning those efforts tightly to key business goals to drive the most impact.
Digital transformation requires executives to think innovatively, but pragmatically. None of us have the luxury of pausing operations in order to transform. The right investments guide the business forward as it operates. This includes staffing teams to ensure daily operations run smoothly while also bringing constructive disruptions to rethink the future and how new technology could change the way work gets done. Leaders that get that integrated approach right will deliver transformative results.
The reality is, digital transformation is a critical part of the executive role today. To drive change, there are three key focus areas that should be top of mind:
Strategic prioritization: Identify what to focus on and where to allocate resources while painting a picture of the destination.
Setting the pace of change: Determine how much change the organization can navigate while moving toward the destination.
Bringing the team along: Change can’t be implemented without building the right team and securing buy-in across leadership.
VMware has been through many transformations, from pioneering virtualization to the focus now on the opportunity in multicloud. We continue to reinvent ourselves by viewing transformation as a journey of continuous refinement. Our strategy functions as our way to paint a picture of the destination. The executive team ensures that our leaders are aligned, and our semiannual planning process helps determine the pace of transformation.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.