Leading Digital Disruption from the C-Suite

It comes as no surprise to anyone reading the technology and business press today that the explosion and ubiquity of new digital technologies is dramatically transforming businesses and industries, providing opportunities to disrupt and reinvent, as well as challenges to respond to and stay ahead of changing customer demands.

Over the past year, we have interviewed over 350 CXOs at Fortune 500 companies, across industries and roles (including CMOs, CIOs, Chief Data and Analytics Officers, COOs).  In the course of those in-depth conversations, we have heard a lot about the impact of new technologies, the acceleration of disruption and the need to seize the opportunities to respond.  Leading the organization to transform and reinvent the business is a top priority on every executive’s list and underpins their strategies and their focus for the short and the longer term.  In analyzing their insights, we observe the following on the state of digital transformation, and how the C-suite has moved beyond early debate and is taking action.

These C-suite leaders clearly recognize that digital is the future for their enterprise, and for their role, and they are moving forward with strategies and tactics to deliver on digital transformation.  Early views on digital disruption representing turmoil and churn have given way to an understanding that digital transformation is now a mandate and no longer an option.  We hear increased urgency from across the executive team about how to infuse digital into their business models to help drive further competitive advantage, and they continue to wrestle with how to deliver on the change they know must happen.  These are the key themes we are hearing consistently:

CXOs are aligned on what needs to change. We are seeing a set of consistent themes emerge about the requirements to respond, and while the way in which the themes manifest themselves in the individual roles may differ somewhat, there is agreement on where these C-suite leaders see the need to focus to drive needed change:

      1. Become agile – leaders describe the need for speed, flexibility and agility in how they operate within their functions, and how the enterprise changes the way it does work, innovates and goes to market.
      2. Be the disruptor leaders agree that it is imperative for their enterprise to become a disruptor to maintain and drive competitive advantage with customers, and everyone is focusing now on how to do this.
      3. Data-driven innovation – leaders view data as a huge priority and the volumes of it now available represent a critical base from which to unlocking new ways to work, and new market opportunities.
      4. Deliver on customer-centric business models – regardless of industry, the pressures of commoditization, consolidation and cost cutting are requiring even the laggards to find a path to digital transformation and the creation of a new digital business model. Leaders see that at the core of the new business model is the customer experience and the need to reinvent the model to deliver on the customer experience.
      5. Collaborative ecosystem(s) – leaders are clear that responding to the challenge of digital transformation fundamentally requires more collaboration and different types of collaboration than they sought in the past; both internally across the enterprise and externally building new and varied partnerships.

We see early actions and pockets of innovative approaches but a still undefined path forward. While this is at the top of everyone’s list to worry about, and most are starting to take action, no one feels like they have really cracked the code yet on the big steps to solve the challenge.

There is no finish line. Our conversations also suggest that there is in fact no end point, and that the era of digital disruption is going to be one of constant, iterative evolution.

Strategy to manage and respond is the key. In the face of this flux, having a plan and a strategy to continually respond and reinvent will be more important than any of the particular tactics taken.

There is no getting comfortable. Ultimately, C-suite leaders need to become comfortable with discomfort, and to build in a flexible strategy to navigate new obstacles and seize on opportunities and bring their organizations and the entire enterprise along with them.

We will continue to explore these themes in more depth over the coming months, to understand more about how the customer experience is driving these changes and what CXOs are doing differently to lead in the new digital era.


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