It’s become the fashion these days to argue that you don’t need a digital strategy, a digital team, or a digital leader, as digital should be fully integrated in your business model and in your organisation. While the basic premise is 100% correct – yes, digital has fundamentally transformed how we interact with consumers and an integrated approach is crucial – and while it may be possible, and indeed advisable, for new companies like Uber or Instagram to anchor digital into the heart of their business strategies, this is almost impossible for large, established companies.
True digital transformation must start from the top, but is your executive team sufficiently digitally savvy or even motivated to fully embrace new digital possibilities? Let alone having the time and knowledge required to actually drive the change on top of day-to-day operations? This is why we’ve seen roles like the Chief Marketing Technologist or the Chief Digital Officer, tasked with breaking down silos and leading the digital change in the organisation. Yes, the CEO needs to decide to go ahead, and yes, the CMO and CIO and in fact any other CxOs need to be involved; but an explicit digital role at the head of the organisation helps to signal the commitment to a digital agenda and to focus resources on making sure it becomes a reality.
And it’s not just at the top that digital leaders are required. A Digital Centre of Excellence (COE) at a global or a regional level can play a crucial role in driving digital change throughout the organisation. These experts can translate global strategies into regional strategies and into action plans, establish and share best practices, and build organisational capabilities with a training programme to fill the digital skills gap. That last point is a critical one, as although those of us who work with digital every day may think all these developments are incredibly obvious, that’s not the case for the general organisation: there may be outliers who are passionate about digital and read up on technology news in their spare time, but most will be preoccupied with delivering the rest of their work plan. Yes, we should all be working on digital as part of whatever role we have in the organisation, but it’s naive to think that this will just happen overnight.
Of course, the danger of having people in your team who are dedicated to digital is that it lets everyone else off the hook. Oh, so-and-so is “doing digital” so we don’t have to think about it. We need to remember that the Digital COE and its digital experts are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, and to make sure that we are setting the organisation up for long-term success in the digital sphere. It’s here that the operational side comes into play: making sure that roles and responsibilities are clear, establishing processes, updating rewards systems to make sure that people are motivated and recognised for their digital efforts. As the organisation becomes more digitally mature, digital roles can become more and more integrated into the team, but only once those prerequisites are in place and teams are fully able to take the baton and run with it.
So, yes, there is a Utopia where each and every individual in a company has the capabilities, the incentive, and the capacity to drive the digital agenda, and that agenda is seamlessly integrated into every company’s business model and all its activities… but for most of us, that’s a long way off. And the job security of digital experts is guaranteed for a little while longer…!