Digital Transformation (DX), by its very name, refers to how digital technologies can be used to generate new revenue streams, create new markets, increase internal organizational productivity and more. While the use of established and leading-edge technologies is, of course, paramount to Digital Transformation related endeavors, soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, change management, influence and others, are the unsung heroes of successful Digital Transformation implementations. The reason being, unless you’re using bleeding-edge technologies, the technology is often the easy part.
From a CIO perspective, the biggest non-technical DX challenges are:
• How IT is positioning within your overall corporate entity to drive DX
• Your ability, as CIO, to drive business vision, not only technical vision
• You team’s ability to be viewed as equal business partners with their non-IT counterparts
IT’s DX positioning within your overall corporate entity
IT’s ability to be the driving force behind the organization’s DX endeavors is based on two key factors:
• IT’s Organizational Clout
• IT’s innovative business and technical nature
IT’s organizational clout (vertical axis in Figure 1) refers to how IT is viewed within the organization regarding its competency, importance in driving profitability, the C-Suites philosophy of technology and other related factors. The more IT is respected and trusted by their business counterparts, the easier it will be for the CIO and his/her senior team to lead the organization’s DX endeavors.
IT’s innovative nature (horizontal axis in Figure 1) refers to its willingness and ability to innovate on behalf of the company, not just IT. This ability requires an innovative culture, business/industry knowledge, an understanding of business and technical trends, technical ability, and the time and tools to be innovative.
While IT’s technical ability to provide a quality computing environment is of the utmost importance, organizational clout and an innovative nature are primarily driven by soft skills, such as leadership ability and interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence.
Furthermore, these soft skills must exist throughout the IT organization, not just within its CIO and senior IT leadership staff.
Your ability, as CIO, to drive business vision, not only technical vision
As IT leaders, we know that we cannot just be the “head techie”, we must be strong business executives that have the ability to run a technical organization. This statement has been stated within IT circles for years. With Digital Transformation , it’s not simply a career-enhancing concept, it’s a fundamental requirement of having a seat at the DX strategy table.
As shown in Figure 1, if IT has low organization clout, IT will either be an “Observer” or a “Requestor”. As an Observer, IT was not will not be allowed to participate in the organization’s DX-related activities. As a Requestor, IT has great innovative ideas, but don’t have the internal clout to push your agenda forward. Therefore, IT must sell its ideas to those with formal or informal authority for their consent and support.
Also as shown in Figure 1, if IT has a low innovative nature, it’s either an uninvolved “Observer”, or an “Implementor”, neither of which have a seat at the Digital Transformation strategy table.
For IT to become a DX Leader, IT leaders and managers of all organizational levels must have a variety of business skills and knowledge, including the following:
o Your company’s business strengths, weaknesses and view on technological innovation
o Business and technical trends within your industry and other industries
o IT’s current software architecture, flexibility and technical debt
o Personal and organizational emotional intelligence
o Strategic thinking and planning
o Interpersonal communication, including storytelling, questioning, active listening, writing and presentation skills
o Business skills including influence, negotiation, change management and conflict resolution
This combination of knowledge and skills, throughout the IT management ranks, perfectly positions IT to be the company’s DX thought leader and catalyst for digital change.
Your team’s ability to be viewed as equal business partners with their non-IT counterparts
Having the knowledge and skills previously listed are the Critical Success Factors for the IT Executives, Managers and Supervisors within your organization. They are the day-to-day contacts with their business counterparts. Without their help, IT as a function cannot gain the organizational credibility needed to have a seat at the DX strategic thinking and planning table.
Most senior IT executives, through experience, training and natural ability, have many of these skills. Many of those at lower ranks, however, do not yet have this level of business savvy or acumen. As a result, providing leadership, interpersonal communication and other soft skill training classes to those in your team, not only helps build your management bench strength, it also properly positioning you and your team for DX strategic leadership.
As a closing thought, IT has been doing DX-like work for that past thirty-plus years, much of it under the name Business Process Reengineering. The DX megatrend provides IT with an incredible opportunity to truly gain a permanent seat at the strategy table. To do so, IT leaders and their key staff, must be business savvy executives first and technologists a close second.