Building a culture for transformation: Six pieces of advice

The seamless digital transformation needs collaboration between diverse cultures, and for that, a governance model is a must that can well-defined ownerships.

In the 23rd CIO&LEADER Conference in Goa last year, groups of CIOs worked together to create The New York Blueprint, a strategic technology advisory for CEOs of India, Inc. They offered their advice on using technology for business priorities, from creating new revenue streams to managing ESG, enhancing business efficiency to implementing Industry 4.0.

One thing that was common to most of the suggestions was this: they explicitly urged the CEOs to create a conducive culture for transformation.

But what do they mean by that? We asked them to elaborate. We analyzed the responses and have come up with these six pieces of advice. The advice is theirs; the language is ours.

So, here they go.

1. Never underestimate the transformational value of technology. Information technology was initially used to improve the efficiency of individual business processes. Many organizations still look at technology that way. They think technology can come only at the time of execution. Truly visionary organizations have used technology to formulate strategies, make business decisions, disrupt business models, build new revenue streams, and do experiments without upsetting present business. Unless organizations realize this new potential of technology, they can’t travel far in the path of transformation.

2. Never overestimate the transformational value of technology. Technology’s new capabilities notwithstanding, it still cannot compensate for poor management decisions, weak leadership, a backward-looking strategy, a culture of mistrust, etc. In short, technology cannot replace human wisdom. Not yet. Further, the wrong application of technology will not give the desired results. Many organizations make the mistake of investing in technology and expecting technology managers to do the rest. It doesn’t work.

3. Build a digital culture proactively. Except for a few digital-native companies, the organizational culture of most enterprises dates back to the pre-technology era. An effective digital transformation journey requires a different culture characterized by seamless collaboration, the ability to make quick decisions, the ability to experiment and fail fast, and, above all, to bring in technology right at the strategy phase. This culture must be built for any digital transformation journey to succeed. Most good organizations start by trying to up their digital quotient. While ways differ, companies make use of a mix of methods, including the formation of cross-functional teams consisting of people from multiple age brackets, formal training, rotation, and even mock projects. 

4. Don’t even think of a transformation exercise without your data strategy in place. Data is the new dollar only if you can leverage it. Any digital strategy will FAIL if you don’t have your data strategy in place. Every organization has lots of data. But are they accurate? Are they easily accessible? Are they usable? After the basic decision phase, the first tangible preparation should be getting your data in place. Most CIOs agree that the CEO must be the data champion.

5. Ownership must be well-defined. Digital transformation is all about collaboration. - Collaboration among multiple teams like the business team, data science team, the technology team, the compliance team, and the like. A proper governance model is a must. That model begins with well-defined ownerships.

6. Actively discourage unrealistic expectations. Ask any CIO what their biggest challenge is in implementing transformative. The most likely answer will be unrealistic expectations. Gone are the days when budget or management buy-in was a challenge. Today, top management doesn’t need a lot of convincing to invest in technology, but they want results the next day. People are not willing to wait for AI projects that need time to train the model. Business owners often want 99% accuracy from day one, even when their current system gives accuracy in the 80s. These unrealistic expectations often kill the projects even before they begin and derail the journey.


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