How to build digital allies in the C-suite

One of the barriers to a successful digital transformation is a lack of buy-in across the entire organisation. To solve this problem, tech chiefs will need to secure some digital allies in the C-suite

While CIOs, CTOs and other tech chiefs may be the natural leaders of digital initiatives, most business leaders agree that a digital transformation must be embraced across the organisation in order for it to be successful.

To inspire firm-wide confidence in a digital strategy, then, it is essential that tech leaders develop digital allies in the C-suite – that is, other C-level leaders who are convinced of the benefits of digitalisation and who can garner support for digital initiatives across the workforce and in the boardroom.

So, how do C-suite leaders currently view digital transformation as a component of the wider business strategy? And how can tech leaders build support for digital initiatives among their peers?

Leaders across the C-suite agree that attracting and retaining talent is their top priority. And the same goes when it comes to digitalisation, because attracting the right talent is vital to pulling off a successful transformation project. 

And with the exception of the CEO, other C-suite leaders say that accelerating the pace of digital transformation is priority number two. That bodes well for their commitment to such projects.

However, while most C-suite leaders and board members recognise the importance of digital transformation, some influential individuals in the leadership team still need convincing.

For instance, finance and operations chiefs tend to value digital transformation less highly than other business leaders. Just 49% of CFOs and 47% of COOs say that digital transformation is “very important”, compared with 72% of risk chiefs and 67% of board members.

Generally speaking, business leaders do recognise the need to refine their organisation’s tech implementation as part of their digital strategy. While three in five (61%) board members and C-suite leaders believe their organisation’s tech is sufficiently integrated into the business strategy, roughly a third (31%) of C-suite leaders and more than a quarter (27%) of company boards think otherwise.

So, as organisations seek to better integrate their tech implementation and business strategy, what would business and tech leaders like to see from one another, to help them align ambitions and expectations?

For business leaders, the most important thing is that their tech chiefs provide them with a clear idea of IT’s role in driving digital transformation. Business executives also want to know that their tech leads have thought carefully about the business case for digital initiatives and how tech can support the wider business strategy.

Tech leaders, on the other hand, believe that tech and digital strategy could be more effective if business leaders would give IT more autonomy and allow the tech team to take a fail-fast approach, where failures can be identified quickly and stamped out. Tech chiefs also wish business leaders would develop a better understanding of the potential of digital technology more broadly.

In addition to providing clarity about the role of IT and prioritising business strategy in the decision-making around tech, business leaders believe tech chiefs could drive transformation efforts more effectively by working closely with the rest of the top team, and by articulating strategies for ways the organisation can better use the data it holds.

According to tech chiefs, on the other hand, the the main way business leaders can drive digital transformation is by clearly communicating the firm’s long-term strategy and explaining how IT is expected to contribute.