CEO perspective

M.R. Asks 3 Questions: Brian Sommer, Founder & President, TechVentive, Inc.

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As an award-winning writer, technology industry analyst and consultant, Brian Sommer has positioned himself expertly to share his unique views on digital transformation. Founder and President of TechVentive Inc., I enjoyed hearing his opinions on what us executives can do to help us survive and thrive in these rapid transformations. 

M.R. Rangaswami: With so much being written about Digital Transformation these days, what prompted you to do a book?

Brian Sommer: So much of what’s out there has been, and these are my words, “Rah-Rah” articles about digital transformation.  Sadly, many of these pieces involved the same over-documented case studies. But, when I went out to see what companies were really doing, I found more digital misfires than digital transformations. I saw a big divide between what boards of directors wanted versus what companies could actually do. I saw software vendors talk a lot about delivering new transformational capabilities but when my clients invited these firms in for selections, they and I saw the hype vastly outrunning the reality. 

Instead of writing a book about that, I kept at it. I did more research, plant tours, client gigs, etc. And, I did that to discover what companies needed to do to get digital transformation right. That’s what formed the guts of the book – the insight to make digital transformations a reality. 

M.R.: So, what do companies have to do?

Brian: It turns out that organizations have to complete four critical phases: See, Think, Reconcile and Transform. The See phase requires firms to get out and see the art of the possible. Executives need to get out of the office, talk to venture capitalists (like you MR!), do plant tours in related industries, etc. Too many firms think that all they need to do is call the systems integrator or ERP vendor that they’ve used for the last 20 years and order up a ‘digital transformation in a box’. You can’t outsource this. In fact, the ‘partners’ you used to use may not be the ones your firm needs going forward.

Executives also have to Think or ideate around these new innovative technologies. They need to construct radically re-imagined processes, design new business models, etc. Their job is to design the future of their firm and their business. This is not the time to do incremental changes. This is where big T transformation design happens.

The third phase is Reconciliation and it covers the very real constraints companies face in attempting these changes. I saw many firms struggling with existing operational challenges (e.g., capital starvation, obsolete plant and equipment, record retirements of workers, skills shortages, etc.) and therefore limited in their ability to take these transformational initiatives on. 

Finally, there’s the Transformation itself. Interestingly, that’s where I personally have a lot skill. 

M.R.: What has the reaction to the book been so far?

Brian: In short, it’s been interesting. It hasn’t escaped my notice that it’s selling very well in Japan and India. It seems to really strike a chord with consultants and academics, too, but it’s still early in the launch. 

Reader feedback has been very positive and interesting.  Several readers wanted to discuss if companies can break up a major transformation effort into a number of smaller digestible pieces. While the answer is ‘yes’, that comes with a couple of really big caveats. First, lots of folks want to start with tiny, incremental baby projects. Those initiatives take time and given how rapidly things are changing in the business, innovation and competitive landscapes, you just don’t have the luxury of time anymore. Easing into a new digital reality is not recommended. Second, competitors (think Amazon) are doing big things at scale. Little changes at the margin are not transformative and won’t deliver game-changing results.  This is a time for boldness, not timidity. 

I know why people want something bite-sized, linear and safe. That’s the comfortable, easy way to do things. But to win in the digital future, paying it safe could be a really bad strategy.   

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Brian has published Digital With Impact. It is available on Amazon in print and e-book format. He can be reached at brian@vitalanalysis.com

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