The digital business transformation imperative

“What exactly does a digital business transformation mean?” asked Michael Krigsman, CEO of Asuret, Inc., and moderator of the "CIO, CMO, CDO Perspectives on Digital Transformation" panel at The 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

Each of the panelists—F. Thaddeus Arroyo, CIO of AT&T Services, Inc.; Robert Tas, CMO & SVP of Pegasystems; Tanya Cordrey, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Guardian News and Media; and George Westerman, Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business—had his or her own take on the digital transformation facing most businesses today. 

Westerman described digital transformation as “using technology to radically improve the performance and reach of an organization.” He explained that when digital transformation is done right, it’s like “a caterpillar turning into a butterfly,” but when done wrong, “all you have is a really fast caterpillar.” He also pointed out that businesses that have become digital masters are 26% more profitable, and that digital transformation is driven by the leaders at the top of the organization.

Cordrey brought some insights to what it takes to change an organization. As CDO of Guardian News and Media, she led the organization’s move from a .co.uk domain to a .com domain. While this may seem like a simple technology issue, it was driven by a business issue (to appear as global as they actually are—especially to advertisers), and it ultimately required “a lot of courage on the part of the entire organization.”

The idea that the transformation is a cultural aspect that has to be driven by the top was just one of the themes to emerge from the discussion. Another pervasive theme was that the transformation needs to fundamentally change how the business operates, and do so across all aspects of the organization. As Arroyo pointed out, AT&T Services is committed to having “80% of all its interactions be digital by 2020.”

One challenge though, articulated by Tas, is that many organizations have created digital silos over the past decade or two. These need to be transformed, and companies need a “C-suite that’s united and puts the customer at the center” of the organization. This concept of creating a unifying experience was also touched upon by Arroyo, whose team had identified that AT&T employees in physical stores did not have the same digital tools as the average consumer. Now they do.

In the end, as Westerman commented, “Digital transformation is a tremendous opportunity.” It was clear that the organizations represented on the panel are embracing that opportunity. And that many more organizations worldwide need to begin their own digital transformations today, not tomorrow.

George Westerman

is a Research Scientist with the MIT Center for Digital Business and the Faculty Director of MIT Sloan Executive Education’s Essential IT for Non-IT Executives program, as well as the author of two award-winning books on IT management. He was the featured speaker for the webinar, "IT is from Venus, Non-IT is from Mars: Bridging the IT and Business Leader Divide to Improve the Value of IT.

" His latest book, “Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation," will be published in October 2014.

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