9 Steps to Leading Digital Transformation

9 Steps to Leading Digital Transformation

Being a digital leader is not a role, it's a competency.

The digital economy changes everything. Today’s basic business strategies are, at best, status quo. At worst, they are bear traps that could leave your business ‘beyond economic repair.’

It’s an unsavoury thought, but If your business is in danger of being cannibalised, isn’t it better that you are the chef?

So let’s take a look at the steps required to help prevent these drastic outcomes:

1. Transform the CIO

The digital economy is not only a technology matter. However technology provides the infrastructure to deliver differentiated customer experiences and employee engagement. We need to ensure that CIOs understand and embrace this reality.

Many established organisations hire CIOs to do a technology management job. What we need are CIOs who understand how information and collaboration can be used to change the business. Do not pass go until you have this nailed.

2. Transform the IT function

Once you’ve secured a transformative information leader, they need to reshape the IT function. It should migrate from reactive technology management to proactive change partner.

An IT staff that does not get this will be fed to the wolves. It makes sense to give your mundane technology management to organisations that have the economies of scale and see it as core business.

3. Transform the leadership

Now it is time to transform the boardroom. Digital leadership is not a role, it is a competency. One that every twenty first century business leader needs to possess.

CIOs (and their teams) need to coach the other leadership teams. They need to be shown the opportunities and issues that come with migrating existing technology and information investment to a model that will serve as your market resilient platform for growth.

4. Transform your business

This is the bit where a miracle is required. Let’s imagine you run a bank and you have 100,000 employees who have been recruited primarily on their abilities to process manuals. You can’t create a cultural change that will turn each individual into a Lady Gaga-like creative type. Do you think they can take an initiative, at the point of opportunity, and provide uniquely relevant innovative delivery? No. I thought not.

Transformation, just doesn’t work, despite what the consulting industry might tell you. And even if it did, your remaining tenure would be spent incurring cost that will make only your successor look good. Are you likely to go for that?

So you need a different approach.

5. Start again

Sound radical? Yes and no. I encourage you to build a 2.0 version of your business from scratch. One unencumbered by industrial era processes and culture.

You are now in the lean start-up business, so forget market research and full-page ads. You need to create low investment services quickly and let the market decide whether you should invest more, modify the offering or dump it.

You now have your first experiment out in the market. Build a portfolio of such experiments. Keep in mind that your new business is not an institution in the industrial era, It’s an ongoing series of experiments designed to ascertain what the market wants on an ongoing basis.

6. Keep 1.0

Hopefully you will read this article in full before taking any radical action. The previous action was not implying that you dismantle or abandon your current business model.

On the basis that it is delivering profit, or is at least not on a financial tailspin, you need to keep it on an even keel. And grow it. But chances are that its days are numbered if it is based on an industrial era command and control. Your current framework might run for many more years. Or it could evaporate overnight should a bored teenager create an app that turns your proposition into a ninety- nine-cent investment.

If you are struggling with this approach, then think of your 2.0 business as an insurance policy against your 1.0 business hitting the rocks.

7. Reinvent the brand

Nothing is so painful as watching a well-established brand flailing in the hope that it can be mutated into something that reflects a new digital economy focus. This is one of the reasons why transformation is ultimately value destroying.

Thus by taking a 2.0 approach, you can continue to sweat your 1.0 brand. Plus you have a clean slate in developing your 2.0 brand.

8. Sweat your IT

You have invested heavily in your IT services, why not make your 1.0 business a service provider to your 2.0 business? It gives the CIO a chance to gain experience in running a business. Who knows, she may extend the service to other external customers and turn this major cost centre into a profit centre.

Your 2.0 business should not be forced to use your existing IT department. There are probably better options at a lower cost. And forget reengineering your systems of record into a system of engagement. Just acquire some customer experience middleware to create a context-sensitive omni-channel wrapper around your existing investment.

9. Grow the team

Your 2.0 business needs 2.0 people. Recruit on the basis of passion, competence and alignment with your values and goal. Team players, yes, but not corporate process cogs.

But what if some of your 1.0 people like what they see and want in? Perfect! Lurking among your existing workforce will be those who are not comfortable with the status quo and believe in this 2.0 way of running a business. It might just provide them with a vehicle for channelled self-expression that could lead to outstanding output.


Sheep dipping your staff in a change programme workshop coupled with hiring a funky apps boutique isn’t going to deliver the disruptive change you need now. Taking a lean start up approach is the low cost, quick results approach to take.

I am sure it will energise the organisation. Waiting around on death row is never conducive to great work. By taking this approach you will be taking your destiny into your own hands, while at the same time doing so in a market sensitive manner. It’s up to you.

Ade McCormack is a near futurist, digital strategist, keynote speaker and author. He is a columnist focusing on digital leadership. He has written a number of books, including one on the future of work, (Beyond Nine to Five – Your Career Guide for the Digital Age). He has also lectured at MIT Sloan School of Management on digital leadership.

For more information on Ade, please visit www.ademccormack.com.

The Internet of Everything creates unprecedented opportunities for countries, cities, industries, and business to become digital. Learn more how you can be ready for this digital transformation.


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