Nobody Has a Monopoly on Digital Leadership
It’s a perennial dilemma. As IT becomes ever more strategic and pervasive, effective digital leadership is needed by just about every organization. But where will this leadership come from? Should business executives be expected to drive important — but often highly complex — technology initiatives, or should IT professionals assume the lead? Teamwork is always a good idea, but who is ultimately responsible?
While such questions have been debated for many years, they are now more vexing than ever. In a business climate increasingly shaped by smart products, social media marketing, advanced analytics, do-it-yourself consumer technologies and disruptive innovations, many companies recognize that they face a serious digital leadership shortage. Too many senior executives and managers are unprepared for the challenges of the future, while many IT organizations are struggling to overcome the back-office focus and culture of the past. The results are all too familiar: missed opportunities, project disappointments, time and cost overruns, lack of accountability, organizational confusion and so on.
The reality is that nobody has a monopoly on digital leadership, but this implies more than just the need for teamwork. Since IT affects virtually every aspect of the modern firm, employees, managers and executives, enterprise IT and even customers can all become digital leaders in their respective domains. This is why we recommend that companies pursue a digital leadership strategy which includes four dimensions:
Executive engagement. Too many senior business leaders act as if they believe that IT doesn’t matter. Consequently, if they engage with IT at all, they focus mainly on cost, compliance and personnel issues. But this is changing as C-level executives increasingly acknowledge that their firms must use IT to become more innovative, responsive and competitive. The executive of the future will be digital first, but many senior businesspeople face a steep learning curve.
Double-deep employees. Within Internet-driven marketplaces, leadership is often more bottom-up than top-down. We stress the importance of “double-deep” employees, those individuals who know both their job — marketing, engineering, customer services, finance, etc. — and the IT relevant to that job. While being double deep will be expected of the employees of the future, real shortages exist in today’s marketplace, creating important leadership and career opportunities.
Ecosystem cocreation. The ability to cocreate value with customers and business partners — in areas such as ideation, support, recommendations and customization — is an important new form of leadership. But cocreation is very different from traditional business leadership, since firms must learn how nurture communities, establish collaborative platforms and reward external contributions. It’s much more about influence than control.
Revitalized enterprise IT. IT organizations have grown to expect that IT professionals should lead important IT-based initiatives. But as IT moves to the front of the firm, enterprise IT’s back-office legacy and culture can be a major barrier. Rather than spending the vast majority of their time with their internal constituencies, IT people must increasingly work directly with customers, partners and suppliers to facilitate new value creation.
One size does not fit all
Of course, there is no one digital leadership formula. Indeed, the balance among executive, employee, ecosystem and enterprise IT leadership goes a long way toward defining the technology culture of the firm.
However, most firms have one thing in common: The differences between leadership and digital leadership are narrowing. Firms that develop effective digital leadership dynamics will enjoy substantial advantages in the technology-intensive marketplaces of the future.
David Moschella is research director of CSC’s Leading Edge Forum.
This article originally appeared on ComputerWeekly.com.