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Overcoming the Digital Business Disconnect

By June 15, 2015Article

If all business today is digital business, then who really owns digital? This simple question frustrates many C-level executives because they often can’t agree on who is responsible for what. 

At most companies, the CMO oversees a digital transformation by converting traditional analog business processes to new digital formats for improved customer engagement. In other cases, the CIO owns digital projects as a function of solving internal problems by adapting information technologies. Then there are CTOs such as myself, who track, identify and implement the key technologies in mobile, social and big data that can provide the foundation for this transformation. 

In recent years, a newer title has emerged for the role of Chief Digital Officer. At many organizations, the CDO oversees digital operations including mobile applications, social media and location-aware devices. A forecast by industry analyst firm Gartner predicts that 25 percent of companies will have a CDO in place by this year. 

This is an exciting but volatile time for tech leaders. Business decisions must be based on measurable systems that can capture the customer experience. Every business unit and job role can become digitally enabled through new software systems and networked sensors. Valuable data from websites, social media feeds, mobile apps and call centers should be captured and analyzed. Each business process can be scoped for a digital transformation that reduces waste, speeds time to market and increases profitability. 

Yet in one common example, when a new public cloud system gets implemented by one team, data can get trapped in silos. Information soon becomes fragmented across teams, and end users are unable to achieve business value for customers. Not a good outcome. To avoid such roadblocks, all parties need to unite by developing a collective strategy, including shared plans for innovation, integration and execution. 

CMOs cannot share information and reach their customers without a modern digital technology platform. Likewise, CIOs and CTOs are ineffective without a clear IT roadmap that combines mobile, social, data and analytics, and location-aware applications to support marketers. Creating this new kind of shared alignment can succeed by enforcing greater collaboration, but only when each leader recognizes the clearly defined authority of his or her peers and there are common objectives. 

Lose the big ego to find some common ground 

In such a fast-changing IT landscape, all C-level tech executives need to move in greater lockstep, just as the DevOps trend is bringing greater unity among developers and operations staff. As a CTO, I’ve learned the value of working through influence more than through direct control. 

In my job, it is important to forge very strong relationships with the engineering, marketing and sales organizations to ensure that we identify and deploy digital technologies that address our most critical needs. 

I try to spend about one-third of my time with customers to understand their problems, one-third of my time helping to drive the current products forward by bringing in requirements, and one-third of my time helping to drive the technology forward. This is done by facilitating creative thinking and innovation and by exploiting technology to address unsolved customer problems. In all cases, I work together with some part of the company to make it happen. 

Some organizations get really bogged down when making technology decisions because everyone fights about which option is “right.” Overly opinionated CIOs, CMOs and CTOs don’t help the decision-making process. With new technologies being developed at an increasingly rapid pace, C-level executives need to apply technology in a focused way to address their internal and customers’ needs.  Often this requires applying technologies like mobile or big data across the entire organization and not just within a single function in order to achieve results. The leaders must facilitate this process; so the best leaders are collaborative humble learners, not egocentric experts. 

For CMOs, a digital business transformation depends on increased levels of contextual marketing. But context can only come from data analytics that turn knowledge into actionable offers or service improvements. For CIOs, this shift requires moving beyond their historic role in systems maintenance, which can now be handled by software automation. CIOs today are charged with developing valuable new services that can run atop the existing IT infrastructure. 

Building customer loyalty is not simply the job of marketers, just as creating a robust IT platform is not just the role of engineers. Both sides need to meet in the middle to create a mutually beneficial outcome that will drive ongoing customer satisfaction. 

Joan Wrabetz is CTO for QualiSystems. Earlier she was VP/CTO for EMC’s emerging product division. Joan has over 20 years’ technology executive experience. She was founder/CEO of Aumni Data, CEO of Tricord Systems (now Adaptec), VP/GM at StorageTek, founder/CEO of Aggregate Computing (now Platinum Technologies) and held management positions at Control Data Corporation and SRI International. She was a BlueStream Ventures partner, on the board of many startups and holds multiple tech patents.















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