What Going Digital Means to IT and the Bottom LineBy Pat Burke
These days, every company is a technology company, and the boundaries between individual organizations, sectors and industries are quickly becoming blurred. To help navigate these uncharted territories and the ever-present quest for “going digital,” Bill Briggs, CTO at Deloitte Consulting, spends a lot of time thinking and strategizing on ways for organizations to recognize the powerful opportunities that come into focus as these boundaries blur.
Translating a term such as “digital transformation” into opportunities for customer engagement, employee empowerment or new product and service offerings can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that has been met with enthusiasm from IT leaders, as they have an opportunity to play an expanded role within the business. In this CIO Insight Q&A, Briggs shares some advice for CIOs who are struggling to reconcile existing technology with digital expectations: Think big, start small, fail fast and keep moving.
CIO Insight: Tell me about your role at Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Bill Briggs: As chief technology officer, I spend a lot of time working with Deloitte Consulting’s clients. I help them understand the impacts that the latest innovations, emerging technologies and trends may have on their businesses. I also help them translate that understanding into strategy and plan for the kind of changes emerging technologies are driving in business models and throughout markets.
Likewise, within Deloitte Consulting, I play a leadership role in driving the investment innovation strategy for our technology practice, and in ensuring that the services and offerings we provide remain relevant in a business and technology landscape that is evolving rapidly.
CIO Insight: Do you enjoy working with a variety of clients and businesses?
Briggs: Absolutely. Each client organization comes with its own unique goals, challenges, perspectives, and opportunities, which means my job never becomes routine. That said, amid all the variety there is an overarching commonality among our clients as well. These days, every company is a technology company. Increasingly, we see the boundaries between individual companies, sectors, and industries becoming blurred. There are now powerful opportunities to cross-pollinate ideas and strategies so that entities which have been historically separated can learn from each other.
CIO Insight: Are business leaders and tech leaders on the same page, for the most part, when it comes to an organization’s digital transformation?
Briggs: They are typically on the same page when they both see the magnitude of opportunity before them. The hard part is actually translating a term like “digital transformation” into viable opportunities for customer engagement, employee empowerment, or new product and service offerings. It’s not just understanding the “what,” of digital transformation, but getting to the “so what”—which is, simply put, what digital transformation may mean to your bottom line. For CIOs in particular, the process of “getting on the same page” with the business side and pursuing digital opportunities can be exciting because it gives them license to elevate their roles to that of strategist and catalyst.
CIO Insight: How difficult is it for tech teams to bring core systems into the digital fold of mobile, cloud and analytics?
Briggs: It depends on your approach. As we discuss in Tech Trends 2016, technical debt is a real challenge in many organizations, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that legacy systems have no life left in them. A critical part of any effort to reimagine or modernize the core is being surgical in your approach—focusing specifically on those areas that will make it possible to extract more value from legacy core assets. In some cases that might mean replatforming, and in others it might require replacing outdated components altogether with the latest tools. Regardless of the approach, core modernization should be done at a granular level, and should take into account architecture, security, scalability and other factors. This manageable approach can help companies meet today’s needs while creating a roadmap for tomorrow.
CIO Insight: Are incumbent organizations at a disadvantage compared to startups that are essentially born digital?
Briggs: They both have advantages and disadvantages. Incumbents have complexity, but also scale. Startups have simplicity in scope which makes it possible for them to be nimble and responsive, but it can also limit their impact. Complexity, which is the byproduct of having a mature, wide-ranging IT environment, is often hard to deal with. The bigger you are, the harder it may be to experiment because you have to navigate all that complexity. On the flip side, scale also has operational advantages. Large IT organizations can support multiple teams that operate at different speeds. For example, operations and maintenance teams can work at slower, more deliberate speeds, while development teams can move fast, iterate at lightning speed, fail occasionally, and move on. Despite their nimbleness, many smaller IT organizations don’t have the scale to support the “right speed IT” delivery model.
CIO Insight: How do companies that have been around for years make this transition?
Briggs: The transition is often easiest when it is focused on creating specific experiences for customers or specific products and services. This way the effort becomes bounded—your goal is not some abstract promise, but rather something very specific. This becomes the first step in a broader effort toward digitizing data and transforming the enterprise. It’s also important to remember that a major part of any digital transition is delivering new technology and capabilities across the company. To do this effectively, you will likely need different skillsets, tools and, more importantly, different mindsets. Digital transitions will challenge IT to grow beyond “business as usual.”
CIO Insight: What advice would you give to CIOs who are struggling to reconcile existing technology with emerging technology?
Briggs: I would start by letting them know that they are not alone in this struggle. To some degree, most organizations are facing many of the same challenges. I would then tell them that despite the increasingly urgent drumbeat they are hearing around digital transformation, maintaining core operations and keeping the lights on still matter deeply. If the foundational layers are not shored up, anything you try to build will disappear in quicksand. Once your house is in order, recognize that design, architecture, integration are the three building blocks upon which digital transformation should be built; likewise, everything you do should be grounded in strategy. Then, a good way to start is to just start. Think big, start small, fail fast, and then keep moving. You will likely find that digital transformation is as much about mind-set as tactics.
CIO Insight: What happens to an organization that fails to transition into the digital, cloud-based, analytics-driven realm of business today?
Briggs: Every company is now a technology company. With this in mind, successful companies will likely be those that live up to the mandate of being a tech company. Digital and analytics are now the currencies on which competition will be waged. Your challenge is determining how your company will work and compete in this environment to stave off disruption. Taking up this challenge isn’t a luxury and it isn’t optional. If you are not harnessing these digital technologies and analytics to drive new offerings and customer experiences, you will likely be a prime target for disruption.
Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight.