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Digital transformation: 3 goals CIOs should prioritize

Digital transformation: 3 ways to cement IT's role as a value creator

CIOs are at the forefront of digital transformation, a position that’s not likely to change. Transformations are never static, although I admit that the word makes it sound otherwise. If your goal is to reach some new fixed state that will carry you over for many years to come, you’ve lost the battle. Ultimately, digital transformation should lead to a state that enables continual change and improvement.

Today’s CIO is now more involved in the marketing functions than in the past, and for good reason. Where once the CMO may have outsourced to an agency, the CIO is now more central to external customer experiences, in large part because digital technology is creating connections between external and internal users. And unlike with past internal efforts, the CIO needs to worry about the technology used by people over whom they have no control: end customers.

CIOs also need to figure out the newly emerging internal marketing needs. They’re often brought in to tackle specific tasks but are quickly called upon to solve a host of other challenges within their organizations.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

Given this reality, CIOs can’t go it alone. They’ll need to collaborate and innovate with a variety of internal and external stakeholders in order to achieve a sustainable digital transformation.

With that in mind, here are three key goals that CIOs should move to the top of their priority lists.

1. Find good connective tissue

Although departments within an organization may talk frequently to one another, each one often has its own unique goals and objectives for a digital transformation. In other words, it can appear that there’s no common ground for them to work toward.

This often stems from the fact that different departments rely on different platforms (e.g., ERP vs. commerce vs. marketing automation), each with its own “center of the universe.” The result is an IT organization divided into multiple teams that focus on a specific frontend or backend platform. Software architecture, per Conway’s Law, reflects organizational structure, not the needs of the business or the customer. Because of this, data silos are inevitable, as are issues concerning control of data flows.

As CIO, where should you look for connective tissue? The obvious place to start is to seek allies within the organization – people who can see the bigger picture. If none are immediately available, look for leaders who are knowledgeable about the changes in the market and have a passion for meeting them, as well as people who are digitally savvy and proficient in technology.

Outside resources may also be helpful in that they are (or should be!) platform-agnostic and can therefore see the bigger picture, helping to create a messaging platform that emphasizes common ground that the rest of the organization can grasp. More importantly, they may help you develop a roadmap to align your architecture around your business and customers rather than around specific platforms.

[ Where is your team’s digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What’s slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

2. Develop customer-centric architecture vs. the platforms themselves

All too often, organizations allow the platforms they implement to dictate how they should view the world. But platforms are designed and optimized to achieve the platform’s promises and metrics, which may not fully sync with what your organization wants to achieve (which I hope is customer-centricity). At the end of the day, you want a customer-centric architecture, not a platform-centric one, to best enable the business.

Getting the most out of this investment requires thought, strategy, and an understanding of the long-term objectives of your digital transformation. How will it evolve beyond the initial milestones? How will the various platforms you implement help drive each department towards the overarching goal of dominating the market?

At the end of the day, you want a customer-centric architecture, not a platform-centric one, to best enable the business.

The good news: It’s never too late to step back and clarify your vision. In fact, your organization will benefit every time you stop to rethink and start measuring objectives based on new insights.

A truly customer-centric organization is one that is willing to adapt, including re-platforming if necessary to best meet the needs of the organization and customers.

3. Accept that value is more than budget

Traditionally, IT organizations were perceived as cost centers as opposed to resources that can help drive meaningful value to the company and the customer. As more companies call upon all of the teams and organizations within the enterprise to create value, it’s important to recognize that a lot of value will be created through the properties of the technology itself (e.g., enabling “commerce anywhere”).

More on digital transformation

Put another way, IT is essential to enabling the entire organization’s adaptability and nimbleness. The whole point of a digital transformation is to leapfrog the competition and own the market. That’s going to require investments, but those investments will deliver outsized dividends to those who innovate.

This begs the question: How can a CIO showcase the value of the digital transformation effort, and even secure additional funding if necessary? Key metrics to consider: if “commerce anywhere” is a key goal, how many customers wholly new to the brand purchase through these non-traditional channels? How does their lifetime value compare to consumers who purchase in-store or via the website?

If the goal is to streamline the internal architecture, is the company paying for fewer licenses? Is legal spending less time servicing contracts? Operational efficiencies do more than reduce costs, they free up resources to focus on other projects that push the business forward.

Success in digital transformation isn’t easily won, but by focusing on the above goals, I believe the CIO can guide their organization’s efforts, and ultimately help it achieve what it has set out to accomplish: the nimbleness needed to lead the market.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

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