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Digital transformation: Demystifying needs and challenges

(Image credit: Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK )

In today’s digital age, a variety of market and corporate factors, such as increased digital customer demand and increasing competition from industry disruptors in mature sectors, has made digitalisation imperative for almost all organisations looking to succeed. Digital transformation is a long-term commitment and a journey that presents multiple complex challenges for CIOs and their boards in any enterprise, given the way technology is rapidly evolving and disrupting business models. 

Below, Riverbed Technology’s CIO, Richard Hillebrecht, shares his thoughts on the challenges that CIOs face with digital projects and shares some critical factors that can determine the success of any digital transformation.

Flexibly facing up to the challenge

As no two digital transformation projects will ever be the same, from the very start of the process, CIOs need to be extremely clear on the business outcomes the organisation wants to achieve through digital transformation. Moreover, CIOs need to have a fundamental understanding of the company's business models and leverage their visibility across the organisation to help identify how such a digital transformation journey might affect each area of the company. Afterall, undertaking a digital transformation project for a traditional business, born in the age before cloud, will be very different from the journey taken by a cloud-born startup that’s looking to generate more revenue.

It’s understanding these intricacies, and objectives, that will provide the CIO with the opportunity to approach a transformation program in a much more effective way. The ideal is that any new type of digital transformation effort starts with a good business idea or premise and then it’s the CIOs and IT organisations’ role to help deliver the capabilities needed to validate the premise. It is now widely recognised that digital business models are changing the role of CIO’s. This reality is amplifying the need for CIO’s and their leadership colleagues across the enterprise to collaborate on these initiatives from the start.  In digital era, IT’s role can not be constrained to the historical efficiency objectives model but rather be at heart of enabling the primary business objectives of growth, profitability, innovation and so on. Having them fully on board from the start will not only ease the implementation but will allow for any change to be measured right from the start, progressing towards the set goal. If, however, the CIO and IT organisation can see that things might not run smoothly, then they have the ability to pull back and take the time required to explore why a new digital initiative is not delivering as it should, before it is fully scaled up.

There is a launch and learn aspect to any digital transformation initiative and it’s important to strike a balance between having some flexibility within the project and being able to innovate, without taking on too much risk. So, having the ability to trial and find out whether it will or won’t produce the results you are striving to achieve is key. Whilst this can put stress on the governance model for projects and the investment, since it can slow down the activities, similarly, if it’s successful, there’s the opportunity to expand and scale. Therefore, having a shared vision and full alignment with business partners is really important.

Be ready to meet speed and scale with ROI

Once a new solution for a new digital process has past the hurdles and is fit for function validation with a sample audience, it has to be able to scale quickly and be deployed rapidly across the target audience. Launching new applications and services are events that organisations need to be very planned for in their approach. But, many forget about monitoring the new applications continuously at this point, as whilst you may think everything is working smoothly, you could be wrong. And to include integrated performance management in production and through continuous releases is critical.

Why? In a digital age where end-users and customers are used to having almost anything they want at a click of a button, you can hardly afford for your business's new digital applications or systems to suddenly stop working. For example, in the shipping industry, large customers have tons of cargo on a multitude of ships across the world. The criticality of the applications they use to oversee the logistics and timings of these ships is crucial as every minute counts. And, therefore, any downtime for critical applications is going to be very expensive.

To overcome the risk of a digital failure, organisations need to go one step beyond just investing in digital transformation. It also has to invest in performance management solutions that will provide real-time insights and visibility into each aspect of the end-user experience — so they can measure what’s working and what’s not, and change it as quickly as possible. This way, the CIO and IT organisation will not only be able to track good and bad performance across the digital estate, but also provide proof of ROI to the board on their investment — showcasing how they saved time, money and possibly avoided a digital catastrophe.

Getting and keeping everyone on board with change

Today, just about every C-level role, from the CMO to the CEO, has a stake in digital success. In fact, it’s so high up on the corporate agenda that new roles such as Chief Digital Officer (CDO) are emerging in some organisations. These individuals have varying roles but in many instances, they act as the person designated to advance and drive a business offering leveraging technology. This intense interest around digital and the newly founded technology focused roles shouldn’t threaten the CIO. It actually provides an excellent opportunity for the CIO to play a bigger role in conversations around the direction and role technology plays within the business.

Part of the CIOs role is to enable all functions across the organisation and provide their invaluable technology experience to ensure the successful achievements of the overall business objectives. Where it’s a challenge for the CIO and IT organisation is if they are seen as too slow moving or reluctant to support digital transformation, and that’s when they can lose control. The trick to keeping everyone on side and cooperating is continuing the dialogue between roles, establishing expertise and always showing a commitment to help all parts of the business move forward.

Ultimately, no change is without a challenge. Digital transformation is continuous, it is an initiative an organisation will start that will always be developing and changing over time as new technologies and trends come up in the market. But it is also one of the CIOs greatest opportunities to help the business advance, to provide insights, expertise and guidance on elements that can futureproof the company and secure revenues.

Richard Hillebrecht, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Riverbed Technology
Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK 

Richard Hillebrecht
Richard Hillebrecht is Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Riverbed Technology, responsible for leading Riverbed’s enterprise IT operations and strategy.