Successful chief digital officers make a positive impact on customers, employees and shareholders, and their success depends on several common attributes.
3. Digital Initiatives
Identifies a few initiatives that could measurably influence the organization’s ability to fill existing gaps. While any number of initiatives may be appropriate, research shows that organizations can only handle up to four initiatives at any one time, requiring prioritization.
4. Budget Building
Rather than using the more traditional annually adjusted budget, the CDO will set up a long-term budget that can be revised as frequently as monthly. Each budget revision should be based on reaching defined milestones so that there is a sense of urgency for achievements, allowing further projects to be financed.
5. Winning Team
Having a great vision, initiatives and ideas is not enough to produce desired results if one key ingredient of success is missing: a winning team. Without waiting for a multi-month hiring process, the CDO soon after coming on board will build a solid, innovative, creative team from existing employees and external partners.
6. Initiative Launch
The CDO will launch initiatives with the understanding that not all of them will succeed. Evidence shows that of four potential initiatives, typically one will fail outright, two may succeed moderately, and only one will be highly successful. Your CDO will test each initiative (with real that have promise, nurturing them until they can be delegated to a self-sustaining team.
7. Innovative Culture
As initiatives are launched, your CDO’s focus should shift from execution to building a culture of innovation, using methods such as design thinking and human-centered design, which consider the human perspective in all steps of solving problems. Building an innovative culture requires socializing the digital vision to everyone who has a stake in the outcome and gaining a grassroots commitment.
8. External Focus
Turns from an internal focus to an external one: contemplates rapidly changing trends within the industry and across the broader business community; collaborates with academics; and works with startups whose innovative efforts could change the company overnight. Without an external focus, the digital transformation effort will not succeed, and within two years, it could become the problem the CDO was hired to resolve.
9. Lessons Learned
Believes in data and evidence-based decision making. After giving free rein to the execution team for a few months, the CDO will analyze data from the limited production launch to learn and course correct. Failure is celebrated because it provides precedent for future initiatives and saves on wasted resources.
10. Start Again
Supports transparent communication, sharing the successes and failures of all initiatives with all stakeholders. This is key to achieving organizational alignment with the digital vision and in securing funding for the next round of projects.
Finding the right CDO—one who has the necessary skills, characteristics and experience to pull off a digital transformation—requires more than intuition or luck. The person you choose will need the right mix of personality traits and attributes, a year-one strategic playbook, and the good sense to get everything and everyone working together toward the same digital future.
Abhinav Agrawal is a principal in the Digital Transformation Practice at the global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.
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