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More effective digital transformation through the power of your own people

The old model of escalating decisions up and down the management chain does not work any more. Business leaders need to delegate responsibility for projects to business and technology specialists and eliminate the fear of failure

Businesses of all kinds are looking to accelerate their digital transformation programmes in order to enrich the customer experience and become more agile organisations.

But it is not a straightforward task. As this year’s Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey found, only 32% of businesses have a clear digital vision and strategy that is enterprise-wide, while nearly eight out of 10 CIOs (78%) admit their digital strategy is, at best, only moderately effective.

Yet the research also found that a cohort of digital leaders are making significantly better progress than the rest and reaping the returns in the form of higher revenue growth than their competitors. Three characteristics have been identified that are more common in these leaders, to help other organisations make faster headway themselves.

These characteristics, which we have explored in a short report, are:

  • Being customer-obsessed, both internally and externally.
  • Creating a clear framework for innovation that engages leadership and has decision-making transparency.
  • Empowering employees and providing them with the capabilities and tools required to effect change.

This article focuses on the people aspect. People are crucial, because it is only through them that transformation can actually be delivered. However, businesses often tend to focus heavily on technical solutions and the methods for delivering them. They need to increase their focus on people behaviours and the cultural change needed to drive digital transformation and innovation.

Digital leaders place much more emphasis on creating the right environment. The survey found that 41% foster an agile culture, compared to just 11% of other businesses. Quite simply, it’s about empowering people so that they have the flexibility and licence they need to make fast decisions and execute effectively.

Digital is a fast-moving world and the old model of escalating decisions up the management chain and then back down again simply doesn’t work any more. There has to be a level of empowerment and trust delegated down to those with business and technical expertise, so they can make informed decisions quickly.

If the result is not what was hoped for, use it constructively. You can take the lessons learned, build on them and move on. But this is still something that many organisations find hard. There is a fear factor around “failure” and this sometimes prevents them from empowering their development teams sufficiently.

The ones getting this right will ask their teams for a defined outcome within a specific period of time – usually weeks rather than months. When the result comes back, the leadership team then acts on this decisively – giving the green light to develop it further, or scrapping it. It is important to do this visibly to everyone because it shows people that they are responding and acting decisively.

Many new skills are likely to be required – including, of course, technical ones due to the new technologies being deployed. But, much broader than that, digital transformation sees IT needing to work with the business in integrated teams where the silos are broken down.

This means IT professionals also need a range of softer skills, such as communication, as well as an understanding of what drives business value. You need technical people who are business people too.

Those businesses that create an empowered, dynamic and agile people environment for their digital programmes are likely to speed ahead of the rest.

Peter Ironside is director – technology advisory at KPMG in the UK

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