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Running on technology: becoming a digitally-powered enterprise

Running on technology: becoming a digitally-powered enterprise 

Many companies’ IT departments are still grappling with this journey. Marc Strohlein, principal at the consulting firm Agile Business Logic, believes that IT is not helping drive businesses forward by creating technology-fueled business opportunities. The future will be built by digitally-powered enterprises (DPE), companies which rely upon technology to produce products or deliver services.

Strohlein pointed to several examples of DPEs: Amazon, Google and Apple. The very foundation of these businesses is technology, and they are wildly successful. Not every company can be an Amazon, a Google or an Apple, though. What can non-DPE firms do to become DPEs? “The first step is to define what being a DPE means for your organization,” he remarked. “Each organization needs to ascertain what its own DPE profile looks like, based on business goals and objectives.”

The consultant emphasized that the shift towards becoming a DPE must be based upon the individual company, not the desire to become the next Google. “The desired DPE profile and goals and objectives should be firmly grounded in market needs and opportunities, informed by customers and prospects, but also driven by the ‘what’s possible,’” Strohlein said. He added that this change will not take place over night. “All of these factors are “moving targets,” so it’s important to note that becoming a DPE is a process, not a project,” he commented.

Businesses must assess where they stand in relation to where they would like to be on the path to becoming a DPE, Strohlein advised. Then, they need to create a roadmap and carry out the steps in that plan. He offered advice on what the strategy should entail. “The road map needs to include new and modified business models and methods for generating revenue, and, of course, new technology solutions,” he noted. “It also needs to explicitly include people and culture—specifically, how does the organization need to change in order to achieve success.”

The technological aspects of transforming a company into a DPE will actually be the easiest part, Strohlein predicts. On the other hand, the human element adds difficulty to the equation. “In my experience, the most challenging part of execution has to do with people and culture—both need to be key areas of focus and sustained effort,” he acknowledged. “In my years as a CIO and CTO I always said that “technology is easy, people are hard,” and that certainly holds true in the case of DPEs.”

A company’s staff members are not the only obstacle to becoming a DPE. “Ironically, a big barrier is too much focus on technology—not enough on people, culture, ways of thinking, and customers and markets,” Strohlein commented. “Assembling a formidable arsenal of cloud, mobile, big data, and analytics technology does not make an organization a DPE.”

Another obstacle is the mindset that certain departments should handle particular tasks. “A second challenge is compartmentalization of IT,” Strohlein explained. “I’ve met a large number of business managers and executives over the years that believe that ‘technology belongs in IT.’” This mindset is very harmful. “In the most successful DPEs, technology is everyone’s job and continuing learning about, and experimentation with technology takes place throughout the organization,” Strohlein asserted.

How can firms overcome these stumbling blocks? “First, by creating a compelling vision and sense of urgency about becoming a DPE, including the fact that DPEs are fun places to work—they simply have an energy level that isn’t found in many traditional firms,” Strohlein suggested. “Second, focus on people first, technology second. Dropping technology into an organization that isn’t ready for it is counterproductive.”

Strohlein stressed the importance of communication during this process. He believes continuous communication from the top-down and the bottom-up keeps everyone on track. “Celebrate “wins’ along the way and focus on building momentum and a ‘rhythm for change,’” Strohlein proposed. “Also, use stories about customer experiences and successes, preferably delivered by customers.”

What will happen to organizations that do not make the transformation? “While some organizations will survive, perhaps thrive, using traditional approaches to doing business, many more will not,” Strohlein predicts. Becoming a DPE should not be seen as a do-or-die endeavour, though. “I see the process of becoming a DPE as a win-win for management, employees, and customers as all benefit and it is a powerful and strategic ‘weapon’ against the continuing turmoil and change that is occurring in business environments,” he remarked.

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