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Technology is the easy part, it's the process of change that's hard

CIOs may have a handle on harnessing technology, but to truly be digital IT leaders, they need to focus on the multifaceted process of business transformation.

Space is not that far off. If you could travel the distance by car, you would safely get there in under an hour. In 1685, Isaac Newton showed us how a projectile -- shot with gradually increasing velocity from the top of a mountain -- theoretically would eventually orbit Earth.  

In 1957, the USSR launched the first satellite and sent Sputnik 1 into low Earth orbit, where it stayed for two months before falling back into the atmosphere. And for the first time, Newton's theory of orbiting came into practice in the real world. Along the way, we learned that the hardest part isn't so much getting to space -- it's orchestrating the larger set of variables to stay there.

The pace of digital transformation

Back on Earth, and in enterprises worldwide, digital has become a galvanizing force and the pace of transformation is unlike ever before. The pandemic has driven businesses to focus on resilience, recovery and growth. And that has required corporations to redesign value propositions, deliver sticky experiences and drive higher value. As a result, the pace of digital transformation has accelerated to address that need for unconstrained agility and new business growth.

At the same time, elastic computing is becoming pervasive, hyperautomation is enabling digitization of virtually any processes and composable services, and data analytics and AI are accelerating time-to-value across markets. Implementing these new technologies requires careful work and rigorous attention.

Still, most enterprise CIOs agree that technology is no longer the long pole in the tent, and the focus now needs to be on innovation and transformation. Just like launching into space and orbiting the Earth, digital is relatively easy -- it's the transformation within a business that's the hard part.

This realization comes at a time when the stakes have never been higher, and the difference between leading the disruption or letting it happen to you becomes the difference between life and death for businesses. I recently met with Sigal Zarmi, international CIO at Morgan Stanley, to discuss why transformation is so difficult.

She shared with me that in the end, to get true results, transformation needs to be comprehensive and effectively managed across the four dimensions of people, processes, data and technology.

Enablers of business transformation

We now know that transformation is most effective when we start with the experience we want to achieve and then work back across each of the four dimensions to change how work is done end to end. Getting the new operating model right, talent skilling and change management are critical to the journey. This requires a high degree of outside-in thinking, a cultural predisposition to agility, bias toward action, clear leadership and ground-up engagement. It's easy to see why getting the people dimension right is so critical -- and can be equally as difficult.

The other key enabler of transformation is redesigning the end-to-end processes. Too often, incremental change that is easy to come by is insufficient, and the significant changes that can return results are difficult to orchestrate. The best recipe for success is a combination of deep expertise in the nuances of an industry or a specific process, a keen eye for the value that ultimately needs to be delivered and creative thinking that can reimagine the future of work.

And that brings us to data. While data has always been important, it has now become a first-class citizen of enterprise architectures. Most CIOs agree that data and insights are the building blocks of transformative potential, and increasingly the foundation of data must be built and governed centrally and strategically. Being strategic is even more important as we work through data gravity, governance and ethics considerations that, if not adequately planned for, can become large stumbling blocks on the road to digital transformation.

With all its promise and proof, technology is critical but best seen as the catalyst that lights up the chemistry of transformation, not the change itself. When viewed through this lens, technology delivers the core foundation for transformation, but it needs strategic, synchronized and programmatic execution across the other dimensions to fully realize its potential. And as digital becomes the driving force behind business transformation, digital leaders increasingly become co-creators of new businesses at the intersection of innovating through the people, process, data and technology spectrums. 

Just like the relative ease of getting to space with modern technology, large opportunities lie ahead in digital transformation. As we look to the future, we are struck by a wondrous sense of being at the dawn of our journey. And in looking at that universe of possibilities, we are humbled by the need to be much more strategic, orchestrated and comprehensive in the approach we take.

About the author
Sanjay Srivastava leads Genpact's digital and technology businesses. He oversees the company's offerings in artificial intelligence, analytics, automation and digital technology services. Before joining Genpact, Sanjay worked as a technology entrepreneur, creating and building four startups from the founding stage to sustainable product businesses. Those firms eventually were individually acquired by Akamai, BMC, FIS and Genpact. Sanjay also held operating leadership roles in other large corporations including Hewlett Packard, Akamai and SunGard (now FIS), where he oversaw product management, global sales, engineering and services businesses.

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