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Building a digital transformation team: 8 essential roles

Who needs to be on your digital transformation team? Metrigy's Robin Gareiss lists the key positions of an effective digital transformation team and explains why they're important.

Assembling the right team is the most important component of an effective digital transformation strategy. That job is easier said than done because the head of digital must consider several factors for each person added to the team, including experience, education, extent of influence and ability to work with others.

Getting started

Digital teams start with good leaders -- typically, C-level executives with budget, influence and respect. In some companies, they have titles such as chief digital officer or chief strategy officer, and their only role is to digitally transform the company. In other companies, they have titles such as chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer or chief operating officer (COO), and they have other responsibilities in addition to spearheading digital transformation.

The CEO usually appoints the person in charge of all digital transformation initiatives. The choice will be dictated by how the CEO views digital transformation and what it entails. For example, the CEO may view technology as the cornerstone of all transformation projects, so the CIO gets the job. Or, if the CEO views business process as the focus of digital transformation, the COO may be in charge.

Once the leader is in place, selecting a team with the right set of skills is crucial to digital transformation success. Finding team members with the specific skills needed is one of the biggest challenges in digital transformation projects, along with having the right executive leadership. Not only are team members' professional qualifications important, but their personalities also play an important role in building the right transformation culture.

What roles does a digital transformation team need?

Successful digital transformation requires eight key positions. That doesn't mean only eight people are on the team, though. On average, there are 12 to 20 people on each digital transformation project team. In most companies, multiple people work within each of the role descriptions below:

#1 Business-technology liaisons

Successful digital transformation projects start with the work of business-technology liaisons. These are people who understand business models, customer experience issues and technology strategy. They regularly interact with business unit leaders in areas such as sales, corporate marketing, product development or customer experience to identify problems or opportunities. They connect the dots as to whether technology can be used to solve problems or capitalize on opportunities. If there is a connection, they present the problems and suggested solutions to the technology leaders.

#2 Technologists

Once the business issue in need of transformation is identified, the technologists gear up. They are experts in the leading-edge applications, services and products that will help achieve the goal. They are crucial to selecting the right technology and providers and for validating whether the digital transformation project will be a failure or success from a technical standpoint.

#3 Security and compliance specialists

Often, digital team leaders want to wait until the end of the project to solicit input from security and compliance specialists. Unfortunately, doing so puts the project at risk because their input may halt everything if the technology, architecture or applications violate security policies. Involve them from the start to work together to resolve any issues that may emerge that are questionable from a security or compliance standpoint.

#4 Evangelists

When a project gets the nod from the aforementioned roles, evangelists generate excitement and find funding for it. They have influence and solid communications skills. Perhaps, in the company, they write a well-read internal blog or produce a weekly video that is well received by employees and/or customers. Those who control budgets expect the evangelists to give an honest assessment of the project.

#5 Financial stakeholders

They have the budget to fund the digital transformation projects and typically influence other budget holders to secure more funding if necessary. They do not need to be in every meeting, but they have enough digital experience to demand weekly, monthly or quarterly updates -- depending on the size of the project -- to ensure the project is on track. Ultimately, they want to monitor the business benefits of the project to document whether their budget was or was not well spent and the projected ROI is realistic. In many cases, the ultimate financial stakeholders are C-level executives; at Metrigy, we've found that 70% of the funding decisions are made by those in the C-suite.

#6 Project managers

The project or program managers now get to work developing detailed project plans. They are responsible for keeping the project staffed, on schedule and on budget. They schedule meetings, develop schedules, raise early red flags when anything is heading in the wrong direction and reset expectations.

#7 Marketers

 All too often, IT staffs implement new technology that improves customer experiences, but employees don't know why they should even use them. IT people are not marketing people, so don't overlook this important role. Marketers understand the business goal of the project, the impact of the technology and the most effective ways to market it all to employees, customers and/or business partners. By understanding the customers -- those affected by the digital transformation initiative -- they can market the transformation in such a way that excites customers and makes them eager to interact with the company.

#8 Implementation leads

These are the people who execute on the digital transformation roadmap. They lead the implementation of technology and process change. The technology implementation leads focus on actual installations of the technology. The process implementation leads focus on change management that will result from the transformation. Of course, in both cases, there are additional people doing the actual implementations on a daily basis.

In addition to the specific team roles, Metrigy has found that 38.6% of companies have a digital transformation advisory board that includes, on average, 11 people with an IT or technical background and nine people with a business background. The board most commonly meets on either a monthly (44.8%) or quarterly (2.3%) basis to provide advice on transformation initiatives, help identify key people to assist in the next project and make sure customers are benefiting from the changes.

Many of the transformation initiatives are, in fact, customer-focused. As the C-suite has become increasingly attentive to the power of the customer via social media and rankings, projects have focused on transforming the customer journey. Utilizing technology to improve customer experience gives organizations a competitive advantage. By the end of 2021, 58.5% of companies will have completed or have a customer experience transformation project underway.

digital transformation team

How to build the digital transformation team

Building the team requires some legwork to find the right people, get their supervisors' sign-off and inject discipline in the organizational structure. Most companies do not have teams of people devoted to technology transformations. They're typically working on the transformation initiatives along with their day jobs. Consider the following best practices in assembling the transformation teams:

  • Create a suggestion box. One way to find people to serve on a transformation team is to have something as simple as a physical or virtual suggestion box, where employees can make suggestions. Or do something more sophisticated, such as a technology innovation day, where employees can showcase innovations they've done as skunkworks
  • Identify candidates. Suggestion boxes or technology innovation days can help to identify good candidates. Alternatively, the advisory board, business unit leaders or evangelists can identify the best people to work on the project. It's imperative to know what's involved with the project at hand: Is it a customer journey initiative using machine learning? If so, then select people who work in the contact center and developers working on the AI platform.
  • Level-set expectations. This is particularly important if your team members' digital transformation roles are not their full-time jobs. Let the team know the time commitment, meeting schedule, responsibilities and any additional compensation. It's always good to point out that involvement in such high-profile projects is great for the resume and for promotional opportunities.
  • Get sign-off from supervisors. Everyone but the CEO has a supervisor, so pitching the project to them is as important as finding the right candidate. Some prefer to go straight to the supervisors once a candidate is identified because they can get their sign-off before even approaching the candidate. If the supervisor and the digital team leader can approach the candidates together, the chances of them enthusiastically signing on to the project increase greatly.

Looking to learn more about digital transformation?

These articles provide timely information on digital transformation best practices, online learning resources for IT and business professionals, and the field's best books.

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