Keys to digital success lie in leadership and people

CIOs are facing ever-increasing challenges as IT begins to take centre stage in virtually every modern business

CIOs are facing ever-increasing challenges as IT begins to take centre stage in virtually every modern business. With a recent study finding digital has the potential to add between $140 and $250 billion to Australia’s GDP by 2025, businesses that wish to remain competitive must look beyond digital strategy and work at becoming digital companies at their core.

However, new hardware and software are only ever going to be one element to this goal. In a time when differentiation is key, business leaders are going to have to blend some old-school thinking with new approaches to maintain relevance in a new world order.

Previously, companies had a clear roadmap, unencumbered by the ever-changing technology landscape faced by businesses today. As such, the same cardinal rules previously followed by businesses of defining success at the outset should still apply. Quite simply, there’s no way to know if a business is succeeding unless measurable objectives have been defined, nor is it possible for a business to run successfully without the right talent.

It’s this seemingly old-school thinking that will ensure a company is not just digital for digital’s sake, but instead has a new toolkit comprised of collaboration, technology, people and culture, working to make digital in their organisation both ubiquitous and effective.

Define success upfront

CIOs need to stop seeing themselves as technology managers and move towards becoming business leaders. A recent Gartner report found that this perception shift is widespread in the industry: some 95 per cent of surveyed CIOs said they expect their jobs to change as a result of the digitisation of their business. Setting clear KPIs and defining success upfront will enable CIOs to ride this wave of change in the best way.

Businesses invest in digital transformation to create wider business success and value. But digital transformation can’t be considered a success until clear KPIs are set. Businesses are past the stage where monetary investment in technology automatically equals digital transformation. The list of KPIs needn’t be exhaustive, but should get to the point of what business leaders and CIOs must look for in the long term to determine success.

Digitally-focused KPIs such as process efficiencies are important because they deliberately avoid measuring success against statistics such as clicks or electronic payments. As these measures are merely a means to an end, measurement against key benchmarks provides a more demonstrative indicator of how technological investment impacts businesses as a whole.

Being more human

Technological investments themselves are also changing at a fast clip. As Artificial Intelligence and robotic process automation become more mainstream, the future of employability of existing workers comes into question. In order to address this imbalance, companies should invest equal amounts in digital transformation as in digital training.

Considering Australia’s ageing population, CIOs need to react accordingly and work to engage employees and talent from across four generations, from baby boomers to Millennials. Many established companies still use outdated mainframes, and are seeking to retain the services of older workers, whilst at the same time attempting to attract Millennials and other younger generations. It’s a delicate balance for CIOs who desire consistent progress while still wanting to enforce a digital mandate.

Therefore, maintaining people skills should be of the utmost importance for business leaders, particularly as an attitude of fearmongering about automation taking over peoples’ jobs permeates everyday discussion.

Talent management must keep up with the pace of change, and business leaders need to ensure they reprioritise talent as a core component of digital strategy. Businesses need to consider new ways of reaching out to talent such as encouraging university internships, crowdsourcing and considering customers, citizens, vendors and partners as extensions and digital accelerators of the talent platform.

Only by combining old-school thinking that focuses less on shiny new technologies and more on the critical factors of defining success upfront and an investment in talent, can CIOs deliver a holistic digital transformation strategy. All digital strategy must deliver on company-wide objectives and ensure the business’s relevance for years to come. Embracing digital transformation will be key to future competitiveness and survival. It’s the digitally-focused KPIs and emphasis on people and culture that will turn CIOs into the business leaders they are required to be.

Jayajyoti Sengupta is head of Asia-Pacific at Cognizant.

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