The case for a digital champion in the C-suite
At this time of year, all things digital are on many corporate leaders’ minds. Why? Their eyes are on Austin, where the annual SXSW (South by Southwest) interactive conference is in full swing.
The 2015 event features a seminar on creating a digital engagement strategy for leaders that provides some useful tips for companies unsure how to embrace the digital transformation. Presenter Charlene Li, CEO of the Altimeter Group and author of the New York Times bestseller “Open Leadership,” asserts that executives who are daunted by new technologies should take the following three-pronged approach:
- Nurture trust across the organization
- Cultivate the right relationships
- Move out of their comfort zones
We would also recommend adding a digital champion to your executive ranks. In fact, perhaps add more than one, because it can be a lonely job!
As digital surges forward, don’t get left behind
“Your customers, your competitors, your channels – they’re all digital,” noted Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst serving CIOs at Forrester Research. “Digital has already transformed business.”
Some companies are adapting to and keeping pace with this digital revolution without restructuring their boards. Often, these are the businesses with digital and innovation hardwired into their very core (think Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.). However, many companies are realizing that the way to join the ranks of the digitally mature is to take the opposite approach. A growing number of organizations that fall into the other category, typically those in more traditional industries, are committing to a adding senior digital strategist to help them plot the course toward true digital engagement.
While 93 percent of corporate executives believe digital technologies will disrupt their organizations’ existing business models sooner rather than later, just 15 percent think their companies possess the necessary digital skills and capabilities to keep up, according to Fenwick, who co-authored a 2014 Forrester report titled “The Future of Business is Digital.” For the remaining 85 percent, the solution likely lies in adjusting their talent strategy and C-suite dynamic – specifically, the creation of the chief digital officer (CDO) role and the subsequent comprehensive search for a candidate with the qualities and experience to lead a digital transformation.
“A digital champion on the senior executive team can drive a more holistic, organization-wide approach.”
Does this mean aligning the company with all things digital should begin and end with the CDO? Absolutely not. Rather, “a digital champion on the senior executive team, with the support of the board, can drive a more holistic, organization-wide approach that involves applying digital thinking to everything from internal processes to customer service,” says Thomas J. Fuller, CEO and managing director of Epsen Fuller Group. Putting in the necessary effort to drive this transformation offers a significant return on investment. In fact, according to a study by Capgemini Consulting and the MIT Center for Digital Business, companies that take this approach enjoy “significantly higher financial performance than their less digitally-mature competitors.”
Six steps toward digital success
In “The Future of Business is Digital,” Forrester put forward a six-part framework for digital leaders eager to propel their companies to the front of the pack:
- Digitize the customer experience end to end, using big data to engage in journey mapping and offer firsthand insight into the path toward purchasing.
- Re-imagine products and services by augmenting the user experience with the help of digital tools. “Extending products and services with digital technologies makes it possible to take greater mind share within a customer’s ecosystem of value,” the report noted.
- Build trusted digital tools that automate and streamline the customer experience by doing everything from “remembering” previously entered information to offering personalized recommendations.
- Collaborate with digitally savvy enterprises to drive operational agility beyond the office walls.
- Cultivate customer-centric collaboration and innovation to connect end-users with employees and ensure corporate developments are in line with what consumers want.
- Prioritize agility so the enterprise can swiftly respond to rapidly changing conditions.
“Viable CDO candidates must be true leaders able to quickly build trust.”
“Boards that are considering adding a chief digital officer need to look for the most forward-thinking, nimble minds with a certain entrepreneurial verve. In short, a courage and willingness to engage when faced with the fast-moving digital landscape is essential,” commented Fuller. “Viable CDO candidates must also be true leaders, able to quickly build trust and inspire the entire company to buy into new digital strategies to include everyone from their colleagues in the C-suite to frontline management and staff.”
As a top-20 executive and board search and leadership consulting firm, Epsen Fuller assists companies with the process of searching for, assessing and acquiring world-class executive talent, enabling companies to achieve their business objectives and build a true talent advantage.
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