What follows digital transformation in the cloud-driven, platform era?

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While the pace of digital transformation has accelerated, for many organizations the impact is just beginning. As enterprises connect even more processes and tools through cloud and platform technologies, digitized data will evolve into ever greater possibilities for action.

Over the past decade, 93% of companies have invested in digital transformation projects. As a result, 65% of global GDP will have been digitized in some way by the end of 2022, according to IDC. It is inevitable that this number grows, but what will define the next tech-driven transformation of the enterprise? 

A set of leaders is already showing us the way. Their organizations are able to search and filter historical, in-progress, and predictive information to transform customer experiences and make better business decisions — actually putting all that data into action. They are using cloud giants — from AWS to Google Cloud to Microsoft Azure — as connectors for multiple applications and processes to create more seamless visibility and collaboration across teams, turning data from numbers in a static folder to active bytes of insight that inform everything from customer service to cybersecurity management. They are achieving a four-dimensional single pane of glass on the state of their organizations today, yesterday, and even tomorrow.

Where is it all leading? As a starting point, we interviewed three leading enterprise tech thinkers. The top takeaway: CIOs should not limit their focus to sweeping, long-term projects, but spend more time and resources equipping businesses with the ability to drive business results now. Here are their thoughts, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Think small to do something big

Joanna Young

Executive coach; former CIO of Liberty Mutual, Michigan State University, and the University of New Hampshire

We’re moving into an age of hyper-acceleration. The distribution of COVID vaccines in the early days of the rollout highlighted how consumers expect a certain kind of experience today. Distribution was clearly a massive logistical problem, and yet people still found it excruciating not to be able to log on to a website and immediately get an appointment. Every company in every market is going to have to deal with a version of this and must be able to provide the digital experiences that people expect.

To keep up, leaders need to stop thinking in terms of years and focus on weeks or months. Think small to do something big. Do some proof-of-concept mock-ups to get agreement on the best approach, and start working on something you can accomplish in the next month to make progress. 

Of course, you need leaders who know what it takes to operate this way, who’ve had experience with transformation projects not going well so they know what not to do, and understand that launching huge multiyear projects is likely to cause a train wreck: leadership getting replaced for spending tons of money with nothing to show for it, employees on the project getting discouraged, or creating new problems to clean up before you can move forward.

That’s not hyper-acceleration, or even acceleration. It’s deceleration. It’s time for companies to switch gears.

Focus on business results, not on managing projects

Maribel Lopez

Founder and principal analyst of Lopez Research, which advises Fortune 100 companies on using technology to create real-time experiences

There’s a big inversion coming in how companies do transformation projects. There’s no time to spend months defining long-term objectives and figuring out which technologies you’ll need. It’s about using technology to make more money.

To make this transition, data needs to be center-stage. However, many companies haven’t done a good job of breaking down their internal silos. Rather than centralize data, they should look at technology architectures that can analyze and act on data regardless of where it resides, and data governance is key. For this effort to be a success, an organization needs to make its data assets discoverable, addressable, and accurate. And most companies still have too many people who feel that controlling data is what makes them successful. Companies will need to deal with those cultural issues once and for all.

Ultimately, it’s not enough to have analytics that show that I like a particular wine. It’s getting that information to the waiter as he approaches my table. It’s not about insights. It’s about what you do with those insights.

Leverage data to empower employees

Saiph Savage

Associate professor, director of the Civic A.I. Lab, Northeastern University

I think the next big opportunity is to develop processes to give employees a stronger voice inside their companies.

At a time when the war for talent is top of mind for many CEOs, providing more data to employees can be a significant competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent, which translates into better productivity and better products. 

I first noticed the need to rebalance power structures while working for a large tech company. Even the highly paid technologists I worked with lacked access to detailed data about their performance, which could help them seek other jobs within the company or elsewhere. And the company’s digital tools didn’t give them a way to learn more about the company. A number of my colleagues quit because of a manager who was rejecting code at a much higher rate than others, but they had no way to voice their concerns. 

Companies should develop new policies and tools that automate the sharing of more company and employee data. If they don’t, workers will probably do it themselves. 

Read this next: Why it’s time to move critical databases to the cloud

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