Compounding this challenge is the fact that C-suite executives have different focus areas and goals. And, more than likely, a single technology won’t address their needs; rather, a complex combination of solutions may be needed. Further, they often don’t speak to each other when making tech decisions, or if they do, they struggle to effectively communicate. Digital transformation is a team sport and should use a playbook to coordinate strategies across leadership functions with consistency in the face of change.
While many organizations have a digital strategy, they lack a common language to strategize across functions, making it challenging to digitally transform and address related opportunities and risks. Indeed, a common language for digital transformation can enable C-suite executives beyond just the CTO or CIO2 to have tech-adjacent and tech-agnostic conversations that transcend any individual technology and go to the heart of their processes and culture, and how people work and interact.
By embracing a common language, organizations can begin to:
- Break through human behavioral and structural barriers. Everything in an organization is interconnected. Leaders across functions can speak thematically about shared needs, avoid redundant investments, address emerging risks, and change processes at scale by simply communicating better.
- Plan beyond a single technology. Platforms, capabilities, and initiatives often involve multiple digital and physical technologies securely working together.As these technologies combine, they become greater than the sum of their parts to bring new capabilities and greater value.
- Evolve into the future. Today’s breakthrough technology is tomorrow’s legacy tech. A common language can enable leaders to think flexibly across a matrix of business and technology needs, without having the business strategy reliant on any single technology.
- Achieve a greater strategic business value through its capacity to change and ability to win. This approach helps organizations better align and execute against their business strategy to achieve their desired results of advantage and adaptability of the organization, humans, and technology.
In fact, Deloitte's soon-to-publish research on the exponential enterprise has found that on average, a company with above-median scores on both the ability to win and capacity for change indices enjoys measurable rewards. These firms saw a price-to-earnings ratio that's 53% larger and share price volatility that's 21% less than industry rivals with below-median scores on both dimensions based on data from 2015–2020.
The language of digital transformation should have one foot on the business side and one foot grounded in downstream technology and operations, steering clear of technical terminology to ensure that all parties can understand and contribute to the conversation. Leaders across industries recognize the need to connect the two spheres in an approachable, universal way. As Tighe Wall, chief digital officer at Contact Energy, explains: “If you want to get closer to and become more vital to the business and its strategy, you need to speak the same language as the business. Every company will become more technologically and digitally focused in the coming years. The ones who will be successful are the people who have already bridged that gap and are already speaking the same language in the business as they are in technology.”
Five imperatives to drive digital transformation
We’ve identified five business outcomes that technology impacts and enables that can help to build that common language. By thinking thematically across these five digital imperatives—experience, insights, platforms, connectivity, and integrity—organizations can communicate across functions in a way that puts strategy before technology and can lead to initiatives that deliver a more modular, flexible technology core that better delivers transformation and strategic value. These business-techno concepts can act as guardrails to help leaders avoid the trap of falling into a technology-led conversation. They can also help frame digital strategies that are linked to technical realities and workforce implications. In essence, they create a bridge for coordinated discussions between business and technology strategists and workforce and operations leaders.
Drilling down into more detail:
1. Experiences: Focus on optimizing interactions with users, whether they be customers, the workforce, or other stakeholders within the ecosystem
2. Insights: Assess what data, analysis, operating model, and workforce are required to enable organizational strategies
3. Platforms: Focus on the location and management of information across an organization or its network3
4. Connectivity: Involves the flow of information between platforms, experiences, and insights, encompassing the future of the internet, and networking with other organizations and ecosystems
5. Integrity: Focuses on improving resilience, security, ethical tech, and trust across all internal and external facing business systems and processes with a cyber-minded culture to address continuously evolving threats
There will be more than one technology to consider for each imperative. Thinking about the imperatives as categories, or “capability stacks,” can be useful. Themes allow change categories to become fixed as technology changes. This way, leaders can consider today’s enabling and disruptive technologies (that is, cloud, IoT, blockchain, AI, cybersecurity, mobile, 5G, digital reality, edge computing, quantum, and others), while leaving the same strategy in place for future disruptive and horizon-next technologies to meet the same strategic objectives (figure 1).