7 hard truths about digital transformation

7 hard truths about digital transformation

Your brilliant new idea? Your customer may not think of you that way. At MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, digital leaders shared advice on handling transformation pain points

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5. Leaders of future-ready companies don’t worry about being right all the time

Nick van der Meulen, MIT CISR research scientist, told attendees there are several pathways to becoming a future-ready company. On his panel, “Managing Organizational Explosions During Digital Transformation,” Meulen said that successful companies have focused on eliminating complexity and/or innovating the customer experience, or on creating a digital-ready company from the ground up. A new kind of leader is required, panelists agreed.

“Today, the customers make the decisions.”

“Some people feel they have gotten to a place in their career where they get to make the decisions,” said Paul Gaffney, CTO of DICK’s Sporting Goods. “But today, the customers make the decisions.”

Gaffney emphasized that the most effective leaders constantly revisit their beliefs and don’t concern themselves with being right. They have to be OK with turning their backs on their own ideas. “Anything that doesn’t serve the front lines of the business is getting in the way of being future-ready,” said Gaffney.

6. Data strategy overwhelms many – and ROI remains elusive

During the opening keynote, “Crafting Data Strategies that Pay Off,” Barbara Haley Wixom, MIT CISR principal research scientist, made a strong case for why data is an essential component of digital transformation. But creating a data strategy still overwhelms many companies. Either they have a huge amount of data that they are unprepared or unable to use to their advantage, or their metrics are siloed and inconsistent across the business, panelists pointed out.

Based on her research, Wixom said that companies seeing economic returns from their data strategies are investing in five key capabilities. If you want to see more value from your efforts, she suggests you focus on the following:

  • Data people can find, use, and trust
  • Platforms that serve data fast and reliably
  • Data science that can detect insight humans can’t
  • Deep understanding of customer needs
  • Data governance that oversees compliance and ethics

7. Digital fatigue is real

IT leaders who try to do too much experimenting at once will see digital fatigue set in among the troops, speakers and panelists noted throughout the day. How do you fight digital fatigue? “Keep it focused,” MIT CISR’s Ross advised. “Forget about all your data. Do one thing right.” Veteran enterprise architects, she noted, know what it’s like to outline big goals and achieve none of them.

It may feel like classic IT project advice, but “test and learn” still applies, Ross noted. “I would pick one empowered team. Find one person who gets stuff done. Maybe a customer who’s been difficult. A service problem. Solve this problem. You start to change the mentality of the company. Then you’ll learn how to do the second team and the third team.” Pretty soon, you have made progress toward shaping a “get stuff done” culture, she said. And nothing energizes people like seeing problems solved.

Companies that make this transition successfully assign ownership and accountability and tap into the power of cross-functional teams, she added. “The distinction between IT and everybody else is going away.”

Laurianne McLaughlin and Carla Rudder contributed to this report.

[ Is AI part of your digital plans? Get lessons learned from your peers in the new HBR Analytic Services report, An Executive's Guide to Real-World AI. ]

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excellent article. I have

excellent article. I have experienced this in spades.

Thank you for the article. I

Thank you for the article. I believe that your are missing a point #8. The Human Side of the Digital Transformation. At the end of the day the DT is 95% human challenges and 5% technology. I really believe as the Chief Digital Officer of a 130 years old company that we should invest significantly on trainings, skills, etc. for "traditional" companies to be successful on the Digital Transformation. Do you agree?

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