Who Should Control Digital In Your Business?

Who needs to have the final say on your digital offerings?


Do a Google search on the above question and you’ll likely be bombarded by huge amounts of opinion pieces and research papers that extol the rise of the CIO as the true controller of the digital agenda, or the CMO who has been custodian of the first customer touchpoint and heralded as the key to unlocking the mysteries of social or even the Customer Services Director, the one who understands the customer best because they know how to really listen. But then again, we are also told it’s the CTO - as surely digital and technology are synonymous with each other and therefore this is the most obvious answer – Digital is all about tech right?!

You would be forgiven for feeling pretty confused at this point. There are vast amounts of research studies being undertaken on the subject of Digital Transformation, even more articles and scholarly theorems trying to shed light on one thing whilst throwing into chaos something else. So what do you do if you are a leader or a leadership team starting to talk about this ‘thing called digital’ and discussing ‘what we do about it then?’ Or maybe you are an impassioned manager or leader (any one of the titles above) totally frustrated by the lack of urgency and understanding of those around you, feeling like you are in an alternative universe – you can see that you are heading straight towards disaster without introducing urgent change but everyone else is high fiving the last quarterly results and celebrating growth or savings - with no change seen as a key indicator for business success.

Digital Transformation is no longer about a single project, identified as an urgent seismic (usually technology) shift required to ‘stay alive’ – from legacy to cloud, from silo to integration, or from static to responsive. Digital Transformation has been around now formally for about 5 years and has matured to mean something that touches every single aspect of your business and your people. It’s about culture as much as technology, it’s about constant change, which means becoming adaptive in every way, shape and form, in the way you do business today.

So, back to the question – who should control digital? Well the cop out answer you might think is everyone. But seriously, we do need to realise as businesses, business leaders, business owners that digital is a catalyst for a more democratic business model – so this answer isn’t that lame all of a sudden. And let’s face it, the traditional business model doesn’t really reflect a democracy when you consider decision-making, policy and organisational structure etc. etc. does it?

If everyone is in control of it, how do you ensure ‘it’ happens and who leads?

Digital requires management and control, monitoring and measurement like all things – it’s no different. And, as with any business is also requires leadership, supported by processes, policies and governance, not inhibited by them.

It would also be easy to think that leadership of Digital can be boxed into the role of a Digital Leader or the increasingly popular CDO – but for everything digital stands for; openness, transparency, immediacy and knowledge, do we really want to start to create new silos? I think not. Digital Leaders, CDO’s are the invaluable component that should drive the engine of digital but there is much leadership required in addition, to ensure Digital really becomes pervasive, the new norm, simply ‘the way we do things around here’, not to mention the collective leadership and advocacy required to drive change.

No one should think they own digital. That’s a recipe for disaster. That’s why a new mindset and new approaches to governance are required. If you really look at the leadership roles of a business, control and ownership is naturally eroding due to digital too – but not in a negative way, in a way that heralds openness, transparency, immediacy and knowledge... The CMO or Marketing Director no longer controls brand, or owns content – the audience does, the CTO no longer owns or controls technology in all it’s guises - the business does.

So all leadership needs to change? Yes. All leadership needs to adapt to the digital world we live in. Read one of my prior blog posts for more on this.

It’s a tough one but possibly the answer is everyone and no one is in control of digital, everyone and no one owns digital. But where does that statement leave us in terms of tangible ‘to do’ lists for the next management meeting or board report? Before you go down the route of ownership and control, assigning digital as a special project or even agreeing the title for a new recruitment, here are just a few guiding thoughts and ideas for you to think about:

1) Create a sense of urgency

2015 is apparently the year of personalisation and relevancy when it comes to marketing and communications. 2015 is the year of Wearables and the Internet of Things if you think pure Tech.

Looking at these two points alone, if you haven’t grasped digital as a business wide imperative and still think it’s all about technology or all about delivery within a siloed functional area of your business, how on earth are you going to cope? For Personalisation you need data, for access to data you need cloud and integration, for use of data you need visibility, for exploitation of Wearables and the Internet of Things you need data, cloud and integration…do you have these? And, do you have the skills to create, develop, deliver, test and improve these? Do you have a culture that can cope with these things that change how we do business, or who we do it for? We could even be faced with the question of what we do?

If you can’t say yes to all this stuff, your need to wake up to digital is urgent – maybe fast becoming business critical. You need the foundation blocks in place before you start to get smart.

2) Don’t bypass hierarchy, support it

Find subtle ways to support the learning and increased understanding of the positive aspects of digital amongst the general leadership. Some senior leaders still think digital is about Twitter, or it’s for the youngsters. There is no blame or fault here, just a reality that requires action. Organise some general workshops with digital themes to help them understand where it is relevant to them, or show them the art of the possible. We often carry out an exercise that asks people to think about what their workplace and business will look like in 5 years time. At the end of the exercise we list everything on the board and run through the list quickly to show what already exists and give examples. More often than not in excess of 90% is already in existence. We must have a focus on sharing and showing what’s available and what’s happening beyond the obvious line of vision to help bring leaders along the journey.

3) The three C’s of Communication

Whether you are a CIO, CTO, CEO, CFO you must now understand the business value and true importance of communication. I remember a manager of mine very early on in my professional career saying to me that there are three C’s in communication: Communication, Communication, and Communication. So, tell people, show people and share with people what you are doing and what the possibilities of digital are. Encourage people to respond and engage. Repeat your message in as many ways as possible and send it out as far and wide as possible. Lack of communication is often a significant contributor to failed projects. It’s not the job of the Communications team or the marketing team, it’s your job!

These are just three things you should be thinking about. There are plenty more that make up the recipe for successfully becoming adaptive across technology and people. Once you realise that there is an element of control in regard to digital that exists with everyone, and that the leadership required is more about custodian and facilitator you will be on the right track. Many people talk to me about culture being something that is going to be the hardest thing to tackle about becoming a digital business. My response is, look inward. If you evaluate the demographics of your employees and suppliers you will already see a growing number of individuals frustrated with the way your company is run – and they are not totally wrong, not should they be dismissed because they will soon be the majority within your business.

We can no longer try and solve a 21st century business problem using 20th century processes, methods, ideas or structures. We must resist the temptation to think of Digital Leadership as a role of control or ownership and think of it more as a facilitator, a custodian, advisor and person able to show you the art of the possible. We really need to let go in order to see where control is really needed in this new and exciting digital world.


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