Digital transformation: Why companies need a sense of urgency


TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talks with futurist Brian Solis about the trends shaping digital transformation.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talks with futurist Brian Solis about some of the changes shaping digital transformation, such as operational models and modernizing infrastructure. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Brian Solis: Every year I published (and I might retire it this year) The State of Digital Transformation for the last five years. And essentially what that research has shown is sort of this eventual but certainly sluggish migration from the digital transformation of, so for example, cloud, customer support, what have you, to a more enterprise-wide, cross-functional digital transformation, which is essentially saying, business optimization, business modernization, or change management. Because what the underlying forces behind, or at least the underlying opportunity behind, digital transformation is that this is an opportunity for the entire organization to not just modernize how it works on the inside or the back office, but also how it functions, how it feels, how it resonates with the front office, the market, the customer, the employee. The digital in this is really about innovation. Some of the things that I’m not seeing are that prioritization and that sense of urgency around digital transformation to essentially make businesses more relevant or modern and more promising and ultimately profitable in a modern economy.

Karen Roby: Are companies still treating IT as a different department, or is it more integrated now?

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Brian Solis: I think if I could add any value to the conversation, it would be this: Of course you have to manage infrastructure, of course you have to modernize infrastructure. At the same time, this is an opportunity to reimagine that infrastructure, not just from an agile mindset … how we work or do DevOps, etc, but to look at why we’re doing something. So this is IT splitting into two, which is not a new conversation, which is management, but also toward innovation.

So, essentially partnering with the rest of the organization from a business standpoint to understand their goals, understand the larger organizational goals, and then make technology investments in all of the apps and services necessary for those to run in an optimal way to help enable those goals. Essentially, you’re adding more value and, of course, more pressure. But more value to the IT organization as a whole. So the CIO role or whatever it emerges to be, whether it’s innovation, digital, it becomes much more of an enablement solution to help the business use technology in ways that are going to help it operate, not just at scale, but faster for an on-demand economy, for a connected customer, for a connected employee at the speed, essentially, of how everything’s evolving.

Karen Roby: What are some of the most important tips you would pass on to a CEO about things they need to be doing to move forwardf?

Brian Solis: As that old saying, I think it’s Stephen Covey, “Start with the end in mind.” I think a lot of times leadership gets in its own way because it’s bringing to that question that you just asked a whole bunch of legacy, a whole bunch of cognitive biases and essentially a whole bunch of experiences that are kind of working against us right now. What that end-in-mind looks like—and this is where I see digital transformation completely thrive—is let’s not just talk about cloud or mobile or conversational interfaces or AI or chatbots. Let’s look at how the customer’s changing, what their expectations are, what their behaviors are, what they look at as sort of the ideal standard for engagement experiences, customer experiences, and reverse-engineer that. We’re giving all of those investments a sense of purpose.

For example, we could look at what customers expect, what they love, what they’re doing, and see all kinds of gaps that we’re missing today, and where you can fill those gaps. And then we can also study the market innovators and see where we’re also missing opportunities and we can prioritize those in terms of a roadmap. It’s essentially IT and business groups coming together for a much more cross-functional digital transformation. So cloud, mobile, dev ops, all of those things, hugely urgent, but we just give it a sense of direction and purpose. 

And by the way, that’s just one of the ways that answered the question. We can also look at the employee experience as well, as they become more connected, more distracted, so that we can help them be more productive and work with more purpose

Karen Roby: Are CEOs and other C-suite members as concerned about privacy and security as they should be?

Brian Solis: It’s a good question because there are two answers to it. One is, if you’re regulated, you’re talking about it quite a bit; if you’re not, it’s almost like an uh-oh moment. If you’re not, it’s almost like an uh-oh moment. I always talk about change is the “aha,” like, “we need to do this, what if?” and then, “Uh-oh, we just had a breach, and now we need to do this.” And oftentimes it’s the latter.

I do think if we’re looking at it from the customer perspective—and privacy and security are paramount to them—and if any event happens, we’re going to see this type of churn or this type of loss in brand engagement or loyalty or conversions or sales. However, you want to put a metric or a series of metrics to it, we can change the conversation much more proactively because it’s certainly not that way now. It’s just sort of a check box. But I think the underlying foundation for what it takes to breach or what it takes to have that event is easy across multiple fronts. And so it just becomes part of the sense of urgency around digital transformation that we have to pay attention to, part of a series of boxes, by the way.

Karen Roby: When it comes to digital transformation, what will our conversation be centered around a couple of years from now?

Brian Solis: I think it’s going to center around new operational models within the organization. I don’t know how sexy that is, but I tell you, we need to work differently, right? So the infamous silos that we’ve talked about an enterprise for forever have to break down, and the only way they’re going to break down is if we can force-create new models. 

To give you an example, in a year from now, we’ll probably see much more data-centered models where marketing and growth and customer experience are actually now sitting together as part of one function. They might report up to a different type of role, whether it’s still the same as CDO or CMO or CGO for growth. We’re going to see these models start to emerge in order to make much more real-time and even predictive analytics operationalized across the customer experience, across the customer journey, and even eventually in the employee journey. I think that’s where we’ll really start to see the conversation a year from now. Still around growth and then forced optimization and forced modeling around that growth.

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