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CIO, CDO, CMO say teamwork, metrics, courage key to digital transformation

Digital innovations have disrupted how we live; a tech-savvy populace now equates a great user experience with exceptional digital experience. So it’s no surprise that companies are adding digital chiefs willy-nilly. In addition to the CIO role, we’re seeing chief marketing officers (CMO) and chief digital officers (CDO). Question is, which of these C-level execs should rise to the occasion and take charge of a company’s digital transformation?

At the 11th annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, the resounding response to that question was…no one. Well, not one person, at least. Turns out, “going digital is a team sport” and departments need to work outside of silos, said the conference’s 2014 CIO Leadership Award winner Thaddeus Arroyo, CIO of AT&T Services. And yes, Arroyo was the lone CIO on the panel of a session titled, “CIO, CMO, CDO Perspectives on Digital Transformation.” He added that a digital transformation has to be an “aspirational experience,” meaning that every department should consider digital transformation its job, not just the job of the company’s digital properties. For example? “Every [IT] budget is a digital budget,” Arroyo said. (No one’s going to put IT in a corner.)

Fellow panelist Tanya Cordrey, of Guardian News and Media, agreed. For the storied CDO, going digital was a necessity, of course. One only has to look at the string of now-defunct print publications that didn’t get on the digital bandwagon. At The Guardian, every aspect of the media property has been overturned, from how journalists create content (smartphone reporting from a warzone was her example) to how the paper’s readers access their content to how quickly they must put out the content itself.

Cordrey described her CDO role at The Guardian as a “digital facilitator.” Her entire organization is now digital, but she said it wasn’t about the technology. “Technology is just an enabler,” she explained.

Ruthless ambition, on the other hand, was not an enabler of this massive change, according to Cordrey. One of the ways she was able to ensure the success of her organization’s transformation, she said, was by hiring people who played nice, especially across departments. “The people you hire have to be great at working with people,” she said.

Dr. George Westerman, research scientist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business and the academic representative at the panel, concurred, citing that companies that lead in digital transformation not only operate, manage and lead differently, but also see a 25% improvement in performance. “If your business is a caterpillar, then digital should turn you into a butterfly,” he quipped.

Hard-nosed digital: ‘If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.’

If neither the CIO nor CDO nor CMO is the person in charge of transforming an enterprise digitally, then what are their responsibilities in a company’s digital strategy, and what should be the angle of attack?

For Arroyo as CIO, he emphasized the need to partner across functions: “We need to be willing to help other departments,” he said. On top of that, CIOs should be able to prove and effectively communicate the efficiency of pursuing digital initiatives. Westerman cheered on that go-team attitude. “Great CIOs are about helping business leaders spend their budgets well,” not just the technology budget, he said.

The remaining panelist and CMO perspective of the bunch, Robert Tas of Pegasystems, was of the same mind. “Marketing is a catalyst, but our IT brethren are crucial to digital success,” he said.

Tas also urged the audience to tackle the skills gap created by the rapid evolution of digital tech. The challenge of becoming an organization that’s “digital by design,” he said, is the difficulty, for instance, of “finding someone with 10 years or more of social or mobile user experience.” Speaking to that point, Arroyo said of AT&T: “Ninety percent of all our IT professionals will have to evolve to meet new roles by 2020” if the company is to survive the digital transformation.

A question from the audience about metrics showed how serious these organizations are about going digital. What exactly are we measuring when pursuing digital?

Arroyo said that it’s important to measure every interaction, not just digital ones. AT&T measures these interactions across every channel so they’re able to cross-analyze digital interactions against non-digital ones in order to accurately gauge customer satisfaction.

For The Guardian, customer engagement, namely the number of daily active readers, serves as an important top-line digital metric. This is because “our product, the news, is ever-shifting,” she explained; return visits, and not the “vanity metric” of unique page visits, are now what matter. And engagement entails measuring the usability and speed of the digital experience as well. Her bottom line: “If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.”

At the end of the day, it came back to the recurring motif of customer service — with a big dash of courage in the mix.

Said Pegasystems’ CMO: “Rally around the customer!”

From CDO Cordrey: “Courage is infectious. … Be bold!”

And from CIO Arroyo: “Silence your self-limiting beliefs and give your organization a chance to excel!”

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