10 Keys to Digital Business Leadership
As business and IT become ever more inseparable, the terms leadership and digital leadership will become increasingly synonymous. Future business leaders will need to be able to steer complex technology-based initiatives, just as future technology leaders will require communication and managerial skills traditionally associated more with business executives than with IT professionals.
Over the past few months, we have held several interesting workshops with senior non-IT executives in which we have sought to help them understand what it means to be a digital business leader. In these sessions, we have stressed that digital business leadership differs from traditional business leadership in many ways, especially in these 10 key factors:
Our research shows that most CXO interest in IT tends to be in traditional areas such as spending controls, investment approval and CIO selection. Too little time is spent on ensuring the efficacy of critical business systems and initiatives.
Consumerization and cloud computing are pushing the IT center of gravity outside the walls of the organization. Digital business leaders will need to have a firsthand feel for external technology trends, innovations and dynamics. Most firms are still much more inside-out in terms of their culture and operating model.
As businesses become more connected, information is increasingly coming directly from the customer and the marketplace in real time. Firms ignore these ever richer streams of business intelligence at their peril, but most companies still operate by gut feel and the HiPPO (Highest-Paid Person's Opinion) school of management.
New ways of working almost inevitably span entrenched organizational boundaries. Digital leaders must be able to drive major changes across existing fiefdoms — inside and outside of the company. IT professionals tend to be particularly weak in this area, which requires high levels of trust, diplomacy and risk-taking.
Engaged and motivated communities are an increasingly important source of innovation and insight both inside and outside of an organization. However, the ability to develop and sustain such communities is a scarce but essential form of digital business leadership.
Agile, iterative change.
The most advanced firms are moving toward continuous deployment operations where the underlying technologies constantly improve, but the changes are largely transparent and intuitive to the customer. However, the IT governance and support needed for such discipline must come from the very top of the organization.
Open communities and ecosystems.
The Internet runs on open source software and is managed by open governance processes. These dynamics are now spreading far beyond the IT industry — to healthcare, manufacturing, education and financial services, among others — and must be embraced by the next generation of business/IT leaders.
Executives who use IT in their own lives will have significant advantages in responding to today's digital technology opportunities and challenges. Most top executives fall short in this area.
Continual, double-deep learning.
As technological progress will remain relentless, ongoing learning is required. Those executives and employees with double-deep skills (knowing both their job and the relevant IT) will remain in most demand. Those individuals who do not keep up risk increasing obsolescence and unemployment.
While this is an age-old business challenge, many companies still fall short in terms of communication and coordination of IT resources with the rest of the company. IT professionals often lack sufficient business awareness, and other employees often fail to sufficiently understand and embrace the IT systems their company relies on.
From our experience, shortcomings in the areas above can be found to various degrees in most organizations. As one of our clients said after looking at our digital business leadership requirements, “This is scary — we don’t do any of these things!”
Senior leaders need to be personally engaged in the oversight of major technology projects. When asked about the progress of a project, executives can’t respond with, “Ask someone else because I don’t write code,” as if personally writing software is what managing large technology initiatives is all about.
Executives need to have sufficient understanding of the work being done in their name. In our technology-driven future, leadership and digital leadership will increasingly need to become one and the same, but in most firms, the gap is still dangerously wide. There is a reason so many high-profile IT projects fail. Too often, no one is really in charge.
David Moschella is research director for CSC’s Leading Edge Forum.