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Technology leaders: The new driving force behind digital transformation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock)

In the past, IT departments were often seen as separate entities from other areas of business and were not traditionally aligned with wider business strategies. However, embracing technology and digitally transforming is now a business imperative, and IT teams have a crucial role to play - their expertise is what keeps businesses competitive and aligned with market demands. In fact, a recent survey of more than 3,000 CIOs and technology leaders has found that businesses are entering the ‘third era of IT’, entering a phase where IT teams are no longer a ‘nice to have’ or an afterthought, but a central and critical part of business operations.

The challenge of businesses trying to move quickly, embrace digital transformation and keep up with the changing demands of customers has been evident across the UK in recent years, with the number of companies entering administration reaching a five year high in 2019. In fact, household names such as Jack Wills, Debenhams and LK Bennett have all entered administration this year, making it clear that no business is immune to the difficulties that the digital revolution can bring. All businesses - no matter what sector - should be re-evaluating how to meet the demands of the modern customer.

Those leading the business through this change often aren’t the leaders we may expect, such as they CEO or CFO, who have traditionally risen from financial or sales backgrounds. Instead, these projects are typically driven by technology leaders with a deep understanding of technology, as they are well-equipped to map digital developments to business strategy. However, developing and implementing a digital transformation strategy is not the job of a technology leader alone. To be successful, there must also be full buy-in from the C-suite and support from teams of experts within an organisation.

Value the insights and expertise of technology leaders

Across multiple industries, be it retail, healthcare, automotive, energy or financial services, every business leader is talking about the importance of digital transformation. It’s become synonymous with a progressive, agile business that can evolve to changing market demands. Yet, they aren’t deploying the right team members to lead these efforts. According to a Deloitte study, just 34 per cent of CIOs are playing a strategic role in their organisation.

Moreover, a recent report by Dell Technologies shows that 61 per cent of businesses are being held-back by an insufficient digital vision and strategy, losing ground to competitors as a result. Thus, it’s never been more pressing for technology leaders to take their mantle as one of the key drivers and the technology consultant for future business strategy.

Forward-thinking companies will recognise that technology leaders, be it the CIO, CTO or equivalent, have the expertise and insight into the wider business to deliver an appropriate strategy. However, this is not to say that the CEO or other c-suite executives won’t have a role to play too. Cross-business collaboration will ensure that transformation programmes align with all business units and, most importantly, deliver for their customers. For instance, Fujitsu, the leading IT services provider, has found that by aligning its IT team with its client services function, it has been able to evolve faster with customer needs and embrace new technologies as they emerge.

Develop the talent to implement digital transformation  

Importantly, for technology leaders to implement a programme of change, they need the talent at their disposal to be capable of executing on specific projects. Unfortunately, the skills gap is continuing to grow. In the last year it’s risen by 12 per cent, and the demand for skilled professionals is becoming ever more competitive. But technology leaders don’t need to panic. In fact, by focusing on developing the skills of existing employees, they can adopt a more sustainable and scalable approach to meeting digital transformation objectives.

Firstly, they need to look towards adopting a culture of learning in their teams. A report from Deloitte has shown that organisations with a strong learning culture are 56 per cent more likely to be first to market with a product or solution. Moreover, they will also outperform the profitability of their peers by 17 per cent.

In addition to this approach being a smart business strategy, fostering a culture of learning is the only way to keep pace with the speed of technological innovation and digital transformation. Decades ago, there were two software languages. Today, there are more than 250 languages and they’re constantly being updated, sometimes more than eight times per year. In fact, Java had five updates in the last year and PHP had twenty. Therefore, implementing a clear learning strategy is a business imperative. The good news is that it does not need to be done alone.

Invest in quality learning tools 

For technology leaders, it’s best practice to find a strategic partner to help develop the technology skills of their team and implement the business’s digital vision. For example, digital on-demand technology learning platforms can provide the skill development tools to keep employees engaged and learning. These platforms combine skill assessments, course libraries, personalised learning paths and analytics to ensure that the workforce can upskill in the technologies that will drive the business forward. They are easily scalable too, with courses taught by world-renowned subject matter experts which employees have accessible to them anytime, anywhere and on any device.

While there are obvious direct benefits to employees honing their existing and upskilling in new skills, on-demand technology learning can support company goals as well. Through personalised measurement tools, employers can understand their organisation’s skills gap and benchmark their workforce against industry standards, addressing learning needs in an efficient and targeted manner. As a result, a digital technology skills platform can help companies stay ahead of the latest technology developments and upskill their workforce to keep pace with innovation. This in turn better positions a business for profitability and gives them a competitive advantage.

In summary

In today’s business environment, a technology strategy must support the overall strategy of the business. The CEO, CMO or CFO of an organisation is unlikely to be a technology expert and will not always be best placed to lead IT efforts. If they do, there is a risk that digital transformation efforts will not succeed or be as successful. Therefore, it’s imperative that those who do have the expertise, such as the CIO or CTO, drive digital transformation strategies and garner the full support of the whole C-suite to ensure its success.

However, technology leaders do not need to carry the burden alone. Working with expert partners alleviates the pressure and ensures that they can follow best practices. In particular, it allows them to develop the technology skills of their team so they are capable of pushing the business forward and meeting strategic objectives. The digital revolution has led to a changing of the guard for businesses, and it’s technology leaders who will be taking the starring role and driving change.

Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA, Pluralsight (opens in new tab)

Sean Farrington is the Senior Vice President of EMEIA for Pluralsight.