Digital transformation: How to personally brand yourself as a leader

You’ve done some great digital transformation work: How do you make that part of your personal brand? IT leaders and recruiting experts share advice
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Digital transformation personal brand

Do you want to be known as a digital transformation leader? Hint: The answer is yes.

Sure, digital transformation is a buzzword (or couple of words) that many tech leaders love to hate, given that information systems have been “digital” since the days of punchcards. Some argue that we should, if anything, be talking about something like “technology-enabled business transformation” if that’s what we really mean.

Even those who disparage the term “digital transformation” often wind up using it to attract work.

Whatever its shortcomings as a label, digital transformation is a useful shortcut for referencing the fast multiplying power of web, mobile, social, cloud, AI, and other technologies that open up possibilities for changing business processes – sometimes in revolutionary ways. Because those possibilities are available to our competitors as well as ourselves, every business or IT leader should be thinking about the digital transformation work they need to survive and thrive. Nobody wants to be the next Blockbuster Video.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: What is digital transformation? A cheat sheet. ]

At the end of the day, even those who disparage the term “digital transformation” often wind up using it to attract work, or better work.

CEOs prioritize digital transformation goals

“If I don’t see the word ‘digital’ on a resume, I raise my eyebrows.”

Why? “Because that’s where CEOs are focused,” says Martha Heller, CEO of Heller Search Associates, an executive search firm that places CIOs, CTOs, and other top technology talent. Virtually every request that crosses her desk is for someone capable of leading a company into the age of cloud, AI, mobile and other technologies with transformative potential. “It’s gotten to the point where if I don’t see the word ‘digital’ on a resume, I raise my eyebrows,” she says.

Using the buzzword is not enough, of course, Heller says. “Before you can put the pretty words on your resume and your LinkedIn profile, it would be nice if you actually did the stuff.”

While relatively few technology leaders can point to projects that completely transformed their companies, examples of achieving significant business results with the cloud or AI, or by consolidating multiple ERPs into a single instance go a long way to showing an IT leader’s potential.

“Digital transformation” is also a powerful SEO keyword, while #DigitalTransformation (or #DX) is equally potent on social media. That’s important if you’re promoting any product, including yourself – and your resume and social profiles.

One CTO’s perspective: Showcase business expertise

“There’s something dynamic about the word ‘transformation.’”

Cas Mollien, CTO of American Residential Warranty in Boca Raton, Florida, says he made “digital transformation” part of the tagline on his LinkedIn profile about six years ago, when the term was starting to be used widely. “There’s something dynamic about the word ‘transformation,’” he says. Technology leaders are forever scrambling to keep up with waves of new technology, and talking about transformation makes it sound more active, he says.

When Mollien joined ARW in 2016, he could have made his title either CIO or CTO (the company is small enough that he effectively also serves as CIO), but he chose CTO because he expected software engineering to be a big part of the job. But over the years, he has had to undergo “a personal transformation, as well as a digital transformation” to relate better to business people and their goals, even though he was trained as an engineer.

Mollien’s transformation bragging rights include a custom CRM system, built with PHP/MySQL, which includes APIs that link to hundreds of marketing websites companies made to advertise ARW’s services, which provide a warranty on the appliances and other features of a home not covered by standard home insurance. Whenever the company made a price change, it used to take several days and several people’s labor to get all those sites updated. Now, the change is made in one place and reflected everywhere. That and similar efficiencies have allowed the company to handle nine times more customers with about the same staff, he says.

Beyond using the #DigitalTransformation hashtag on social media, Steve diFilipo, a former university CIO and current consultant, says “digital transformation” is the kind of thing he might say at a cocktail party if someone asks him to describe what he does for a living.

As a positioning statement, identifying yourself with digital transformation means that you aspire to redefine your role beyond the management of servers and networks, diFilipo says. “Digital strategy is much larger and has much greater tentacles.”

Tapping into the power of social media

“Storyteller, Architecting #Cloud & #DigitalTransformation programs/teams,” is how Sarbjeet Johal describes himself on his Twitter profile, and his feed overflows with posts tagged to both of those topics. While he is best known as an architect and cloud evangelist for various companies, this former economics major understands that business transformation should be the ultimate goal of every digital project.

“I think there is always a reason why a term like this takes off,” Johal says, and clearly “the amazing digitization of physical goods and services” is opening new frontiers in business.

“As you get older, age discrimination in tech is a thing.”

While embracing popular hashtags, one of the ways Johal keeps it real on social media is by insisting on a quality standard. For example, he will never share someone else’s content just because it has what looks like a compelling headline. “If I cannot read that thing, I will not post it, I will not comment on it,” Johal says. That boosts the credibility of what he does post, but it also means his strategy for building a strong online reputation winds up being a lot of work.

“I don’t get paid to be tweeting,” he says.

Yet over the past few years, he has made a concerted effort at personal branding. One reason: “As you get older, age discrimination in tech is a thing.” As an independent consultant who is forever prospecting for new work, Johal wants to showcase the wisdom that comes with age – the fact that he not only knows the newest technologies but can place them in a larger context.

Anyone young or old seeking to advance their career might consider whether they, in their own way, can do the same, to bolster their personal brand as a subject matter expert in various topics.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

David F. Carr is a writer, speaker, student of digital business, and the author of "Social Collaboration for Dummies." He previously served as an editor for InformationWeek, Baseline Magazine, and Internet World and has written for Forbes, CIO Magazine, and Defense Systems.


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