Digital transformation is about efficiency and competitiveness. It requires a deep understanding of current and emerging business processes and models and a similar understanding of current, emerging and disruptive digital technology. There are 15 capabilities that companies must master to achieve digital transformation that include specific technologies, new business-technology management best practices and soft skillsets.
Your business is changing but your ability to respond to shifting markets, demographics and aggressive competitors is constrained probably because you’re not properly leveraging current, emerging and potentially even disruptive digital technology. So your digital transformation projects are failing – and will continue to fail until you master the “magnificent 15” technologies, best practices and soft skills described here.
If you’ve under-invested in these technologies, best practices and soft skills you will fail. Put another way, if you’ve over-invested in enterprise software development, help desk management and in-house applications support you’ve undermined digital transformation possibilities. Remember, the role of “technology” has changed forever. The chances are good that your business-technology strategy is optimised for the 20th century. But today the successful technology organisation is a management organisation, not a development organisation. It does not create. It applies, exploits and optimises.
There are at least 15 technologies, best practices and soft skills necessary to optimise the new business-technology relationship in the 21st century. The Magnificent 15 can be organised in three baskets of 5 each: (1) technologies, (2) management best practices and (3) soft skills. If you want to transform your business with current, emerging or disruptive digital technology, you need to invest in all 15.
The list below actually presents the short-list of must-have capabilities.
- Cloud Computing – Because Everything’s Moving to the Cloud
- Analytics – Because Descriptive, Explanatory & Predictive Insight is Transactional Lifeblood
- Digital Security – Because Digital Transformation Can Be Derailed by Data Breaches
- Digital Media – Because All Content is Digital, Especially Social Content
- Emerging Technologies – Because Your Next Disruptive Technology is Already Here
Management Best Practices:
- Project & Program Management – Because You Must Know How to Size, Scope & Watch
- Vendor Management – Because RFPs & SLAs are Now a Way of Life
- Digital Security Management – Because Security Vendors & Auditors are Your New Best Friends
- Business Analysis – Because Requirements Always Change & “the Business” is Tech’s Only Client
- Metrics – Because Everyone Needs to Measure – & Know – Everything
- Written Communications Skills – Because You Need to Write Clearly & Purposefully
- Verbal Communications Skills – Because They Will Listen if You’re Coherent-with-Style
- Collaboration Skills – Because No Techman or Techwoman is an Island
- Persuasion & Negotiation Skills – Because Everyone Disagrees Until Persuaded Otherwise
- External Presentation Skills – Because Techies Need to Be Housebroken Before Leaving the Office
Are You Ready for Digital Transformation?
Looking at the list of technologies, best practices and soft skills, are you well positioned or ill positioned?
There are 5 steps you can take to assess your transformation readiness: (See Figure 1 below).
Digital transformation projects include those projects that represent change through the application of existing, emerging and disruptive technology. They include improvements to customer acquisition processes, customer service, supply chain planning, digital media integration, analytics-driven management and location-based services, among other business processes that might be transformed with digital technology.
Emerging and disruptive technologies enable transformation, such as the use of augmented reality to improve education and learning, the use of location-based services for real-time cross-selling and up-selling and the application of automated reasoning to transaction processing.
Best practices enable the optimisation of digital transformation; the right soft skills sustain digital transformation.
The Magnificent 15
The 15 technologies, best practices and soft skills necessary for successful digital transformation are defined below. The first set is about technologies:
- Cloud Computing. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, all flavours of cloud computing, including all of the service models that cloud computing provides such as infrastructure (IaaS), software (SaaS), platform (PaaS), security (SaaS), mobility (MaaS), analytics (AaaS) and even learning (LaaS). It’s also about knowledge of, and experience with, alternative cloud delivery architectures, cloud service level agreements (CSLAs), cloud performance metrics and cloud virtualisation (especially container) technologies.
- Analytics. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, structured and unstructured descriptive, explanatory and predictive analytics. It also includes knowledge of, and experience with, the major open source analytics platforms like Hadoop and Spark, among others. It focuses on data science, data representation, deep learning, simulation and displays.
- Digital Security. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, the variety of current and emerging security technologies including technologies like Blockchain technology, multi-factor authentication, application isolation, intelligent/automated security tools, mobile application wrapper technology, detection technologies, IaaS/SaaS device security technologies, automated testing and pervasive/IoT security technologies, among others.
- Digital Media. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, all forms of digital media especially social media. As Wikipedia describes: “Digital media can be created, viewed, distributed, modified and preserved on digital electronics devices. Computer programs and software; digital imagery, digital video; video games; web pages and websites, including social media; data and databases; digital audio, such as mp3s; and e-books are examples of digital media … combined with the Internet and personal computing, digital media has caused disruption in publishing, journalism, entertainment, education, commerce and politics.”
- Emerging Technologies, Especially Potentially Disruptive Technologies. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, emerging technologies that might disrupt the business rules, processes and models of specific vertical industries and companies. The focus assumes competency in competitive technology intelligence. It also assumes wide and deep knowledge of, and experience with, the adoption of disruptive technology. Of special importance are emerging/disruptive technologies like virtual/augmented reality, automated reasoning, cashless payment systems, real-time analytics, eBook technology, simulation/gaming technology, location-based technology and disruptive interface technologies like intelligent speech, among others.
Best practices are also grouped into five areas and are defined as follows:
- Project & Program Management. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, project and programme management tools, techniques and best practices. It assumes knowledge of, and experience with, project and programme management of small and large-scale technology projects and familiarity with the array of tools available to professional project and programme managers. This assumes the ability to manage projects and programs cost-effectively and within task-defined timelines. Project and programme managers should be professionally certified (from organisations like the Project Management Institute [PMI]).
- Vendor Management. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, technology vendor management best practices. This assumes knowledge of, and experience with, the development of requests for information (RFIs), requests for proposals (RFPs) and requests for quotes (RFQs) including automated tools to develop and compare these documents. This also assumes the development of detailed service level agreements (SLAs) and the management tools for measuring adherence to SLA compliance. Communications and negotiation skills are also part of this management area. Finally, it’s essential to demonstrate knowledge of, and experience with, RFI/RFQ/RFP/SLA-based cloud vendor management.
- Digital Security Management. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, security challenges and processes, including security policies and the adoption of best practices, compliance with industry standards (such as ISO27002), regulatory compliance across the entire university, vulnerability assessment/remediation, penetration testing, incident response, network and systems monitoring, forensic analysis, security awareness and training, backup and recovery, among others. The focus should be on audit-approved security-as-a-service, not on in-house security core competencies.
- Business Analysis. The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, business process modelling (BPM), requirements identification, modelling and validation, and digital transformation. It also assumes the ability to model existing and future business processes and whole new business models, ideally within BPM toolsets. This area also assumes knowledge of, and experience with, requirements matching with external vendor capabilities and specific transformation programmes and projects.
- Metrics.The focus here is on knowledge of, and experience with, operational, delivery, organisation and financial metrics, including metrics around online cloud application performance, cloud application availability, delivery incidents, SLA adherence, project performance (especially satisfaction), personnel performance reviews, budgeting and resource costs. Knowledge and experience here also refers to the tools available to track, measure and report technology performance metrics.
Finally, there are 5 necessary soft skillsets:
- Written Communications Skills. The focus here is on experience writing reports and creating presentations that are easily understood and therefore actionable. The key to communication is purposeful brevity: is the team capable of such (written) communication? Written communication skills should also be customised to specific audiences, such as executives, boards, internal auditors, sales and marketing professionals and customers, among others.
- Verbal Communications Skills. The focus here is on experience delivering presentations that are easily understood and therefore actionable. The key to verbal communications is also purposeful brevity: is the team capable of such (verbal) communication? Verbal communication skills should also be customised to specific audiences, such as executives, boards, internal auditors, sales and marketing professionals and customers, among others.
- Collaboration Skills. The focus here is on the ability to work productively with teams of all shapes and sizes. This ability requires experience and “soft” skills that integrate and optimise team contributions.
- Persuasion & Negotiation Skills. The focus here is on the ability to persuade and negotiate in a zero-sum world. The most obvious capability here is with internal constituencies regarding budgeting. But the capability includes project prioritisation and inter- and intra-group leadership.
- External Presentation Skills. The focus here is on experience presenting to outside constituencies and stakeholders, especially vendors, external auditors, customers and professional organisations. Senior members of the technology team must be “presentable” to a wide external audience. As the company’s technology representatives – and as one of the principal spokespersons for digital transformation – the senior technology team (especially the CIO, CTO and CISO) must all be superb presenters.
These 15 technologies, best practices and soft skills should be used to assess your digital transformation capabilities. This involves an objective workforce assessment of your business-technology team. If gaps exist – as they likely will – you must react accordingly.
Filling the Gaps
Digital transformation is complicated yet potentially extremely impactful, especially when transformation leverages emerging and disruptive technology. But the gaps you discover in Step 4 must be addressed.
You have three options: repair, rent or replace. The repair option is often a good one: re-train and re-tool the willing keepers. Rethink how many full-time permanent technology professionals you really need: rent the others as consultants, contractors and long-term vendors.
Unfortunately, you may also have to replace some members of the business-technology team. While this is always difficult, it’s also expensive to keep the unsalvageable ones. The unsalvageable ones will also threaten your competitiveness.
Digital transformation is challenging but continuously necessary. This is not the first time we’ve heeded the call to “re-engineer” and it won’t be the last. “Digital transformation” is today’s unique call to action. It’s “unique” today because of the trajectory of digital technology and the impact that current, emerging and disruptive technology has had on business processes and whole new business models. Industries and companies now live in fear of disruption because of what’s happened to the travel, delivery, transportation, insurance and retail industries. The real estate, banking and election industries are next – and with a vengeance. Said differently, if you’re not the disruptor, you’re disruptable. Digital transformation thus becomes a survival tactic. Mastering the Magnificent 15 will help.
About the Author
Stephen J. Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business Technology at Villanova University where he teaches and directs applied research in digital technology management and emerging technologies. He was the Director of the Cybernetics Technology Office of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the CTO and Senior Vice President of Safeguard Scientifics, Inc. and CTO and Senior Vice President for Technology Strategy at Cigna CorporWation. His most recent book – Technology Adoption & Digital Transformation: How Emerging Technologies Now Enter the Enterprise – will be published in 2017 by the Taylor & Francis Group of CRC Press. He can be reached at [email protected] or through www.andriole.com.