Who’s in charge of agile transformation?

Enterprise agility – the ability to change direction quickly – is a decisive factor for success in today’s digital world. Rather than being disrupted by competitors, agile enterprises are making their own decisive moves, whether introducing new products or services, entering a new market or even creating a new business model altogether.

Every single function, from CEO to individual employee, has to live the digital transformation in every aspect of daily work

Neil Ward-Dutton, vice president at researchers IDC, says agility matters because digital technologies have penetrated industry. IDC research shows that 65 per cent of European chief executives (CEOs) are under significant pressure to deliver results from digital transformation. But with enterprise agility more crucial than ever, whose responsibility is it to drive that transformation?

The answer to this question is complicated. Transformation efforts often start with a specific project in one business function. So, a chief marketing officer (CMO) might work on a project to transform how content is used, a chief digital officer (CDO) might focus on a customer engagement programme, while the chief information officer (CIO) might move legacy systems to the cloud.

Collaboration is key to agility

However, as transformations move beyond their initial stages, the critical success factor is collaboration. Businesses looking to make the most of a new way of working in a particular function will look to create a wider, cross-business transformation. Mr Ward-Dutton says this means the leadership of transformation is more like a team sport.

“New innovative teams need to be working hand in hand with established teams running core operations,” he says. “Organisations that really deliver on transformation are those that create dream teams of senior executives working
collaboratively. These teams typically have at their core the CEO, CDO, CMO, CIO and CFO [chief financial officer].”

This focus on collaborative transformation leadership resonates with Steve Bates, global leader of the
CIO Centre of Excellence at consultants KPMG. His discussions with CIOs suggest we’ve now reached a tipping point: all organisations want enterprise agility.

As organisations become more agile, the requirement for collaborative leadership continues to increase. And while successful transformation is a team sport, CIOs will often play the captain’s role, due to their hard-learnt experience of using digital systems and services to create enterprise agility.

“As a modern business, you have to be able to pivot quickly and much of this is underpinned by technology,” says Mr Bates. “CIOs can help other senior executives to make that transition. After all, agile is how CIOs have been working for the past 20 years and the business now wants to harness the way these pioneering digital leaders have been working.”

Why CIOs need to drive business transformation

It’s a sentiment that resonates with Dayne Turbitt, UK and Ireland senior vice president for enterprise sales at Dell Technologies. He agrees CIOs have to move far beyond infrastructure management and into roles and responsibilities that make use of their hard-won experience of digital transformation.

He says smart CIOs are reinventing themselves as specialist business advisers who understand the disruptive power of technology. These IT leaders act as the chief executive’s trusted lieutenants, using their deep understanding of all things digital to help deliver the agile enterprise.

“What I’m seeing is the CIO role is being elevated to the board as an adviser to the CEO on the art of the possible with technology,” says Mr Turbitt. “CEOs are becoming more technically savvy. However, they are not steeped in technology, so they need a trusted adviser who is more of an innovator than an operations person.”

Michael Ibbitson, executive vice president for technology and infrastructure at Dubai Airports, agrees that the growing influence of digital helps CIOs to establish their roles and responsibilities in transformational activities.
The underlying role of systems and services means every modern business is in effect a technology company, including his airports.

“I was talking to our senior vice president of operations recently and he said he can’t work without technology anymore. And for me that means technology is actually more about business operations than it ever had been in the past, especially ten years ago when technology was seen as a service that reported into the finance function,” he says.

Business agility requires buy-in from all

The central role of technology in business means experienced IT chiefs play an invaluable role in helping traditional organisations to become agile enterprises. Yet CIOs cannot afford to work in isolation. Julie Dodd, director of digital transformation and communication at Parkinson’s UK, says digital leaders must have a clear, strategic roadmap for implementing technologies as part of a broader business vision.

“I believe the idea of a written ‘technology strategy’ or ‘digital strategy’ is old hat,” she says. “And perhaps even worse, it perpetuates the idea that technology is additional, rather than fundamental, to the successful achievement of an overall mission and the business’s goals.”

Ms Dodd recognises that the best CIOs see change as a continual process that helps create lasting enterprise agility. They work with C-suite peers to identify how technologies can be adopted and adapted to help the business reach its objectives.

Hanna Hennig, CIO at Osram, agrees that digital transformation is nothing that a single function can accomplish and is the combined effort of the whole enterprise. Her firm is undertaking digitisation as it completes a shift from being best-known as a light bulb specialist to a photonics company, covering advanced products including LEDs, infrared and laser lighting.

“To implement that successfully, every single function, from CEO and managing board to management, like the CIO, and each individual employee, has to live the digital transformation in every aspect of daily work,” says Ms Hennig. “Digital transformation is not only about technology, but also about the people and the culture. With cultural change, agility is fostered in the whole organisation.”