Digital transformation: whose job is it anyway?

Written by James Cannings
November 20th 2018

4 minute read

This article was originally published on The Drum 

It’s a question that often comes up. ‘Yes, we all understand that digital transformation is important, but if there’s not clear and visible leadership from the top, then where is it going to come from?’

The answers vary. And often this depends on your own company culture. Traditionally, you’d say it’s down to the chief executive officer. But sometimes they’re too bound by the short term to deliver on the long view. Some organisations have opted for a C-suite tech specialist such as CIO, CDO or CTO. And others (ourselves included) have pointed out that as the soul of the brand, and the voice of the customer, the chief marketing officer is well-placed to step up and play a key role.

And this is a moot point, as we look ahead to our panel at The Drum’s Future of Marketing conference next week, where we’ll be looking at AI - an emerging technology force that (like most transformative technologies) seems to excite and terrify in equal measure - depending on your worldview.

Of course, the answer is that digital evolution (I avoid the phrase transformation deliberately) needs leadership from everywhere.

There’s also a lot to be said for a ‘bottom up’ approach, where everyone is invited to look at how technologies can make their working lives better.

Organisations should put even more emphasis on getting staff engaged, as much they embrace the technology itself.

New technologies and digital trends will never stop and it’s not realistic to expect a single department to keep on top of all the latest developments. And even if they do, do we really need to invest too much time thinking about how the latest things at the bottom of the Gartner Hype Cycle could impact us? As Mary Meeker consistently points out, sometimes it’s the simple, practical things that make the biggest impact and most staff are pretty good at identifying the little frustrations that cost time and money.

That said, tread carefully. Knowing the virtues and limitations of machine learning, AI, the internet of things and other tech advancements may come easily to the chief information officer, chief marketing officer, and CEO but some people can be fearful of digital change. Going back to AI, much of the media narrative has been about how many job losses that robots will cause, and when, not if, it will happen to you.

Concern is understandable but can be appeased by moving to a more flexible corporate culture, in which digital collaboration thrives and employees are part of the digital evolution and given a stake in its rollout being a success. Leadership teams, whether that’s led by CEOs, CTOs, CMOs or whomever, should take baby steps so that staff feel energised and empowered. And it should all be put into the context of the business’ goals and aspirations.

Every major tech innovation has led to more jobs, not fewer. And while I don’t intend to get into wage inequality here… the fact remains that the UK is enjoying a sustained period of record-low unemployment. There’s no reason why AI will buck that trend.

Training is pivotal in both fostering staff involvement, and upskilling employees. As a digital agency, we find the hybrid model, where agency teams work alongside in-house teams to deliver projects - not only helps to transfuse knowledge and skills into the client’s business, but helps to familiarise teams with ongoing change.

Likewise, software tools, like IBM Watson and Microsoft Cognitive Services, can put AI (and other technologies) to work immediately on real-life day to day practical challenges. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt when it makes life better.

So the bottom line is that everyone in the business, from top to bottom, can play an active role in using technology to drive the company forward.

Of course, the CEO should lead the overall business agenda. CTOs, CIOs and C-suite ‘digital leaders’ should have an eye on how the macro tech trends might offer new opportunities or threats. And there’s a huge opportunity for CMOs to put technologies such as IBM Watson to work to immediately deliver tangible, immediate improvements to price, product, place, promotion, people, performance or any other of the marketing Ps they are accountable for.

But don’t overlook your workforce. They’re key to driving successful digital transformation.