Technology and “the business” are in an existential battle for who is the rightful heir to the digital transformation throne.

In many organisations, especially large ones, tension is common between business and technology leaders when it comes to digital transformation. The tech leaders are experts in technology, and are thriving in this increasingly technology led world that we inhabit. Their time has come, and they want to run the show. However, as the digital age accelerates, organisations need to master technology to survive.

Over the last decade in particular, increasing numbers of business leaders are embracing digital and learning the language and the tools that enable technology to be leveraged to drive business outcomes. Many organisations have embraced this trend by appointing Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) and the like, who carry overall responsibility for driving digital transformation. Technology teams are embedded in this of course, but the tension often continues unabated. This tension is fuelled by the reality that many of the CDOs are not technologists, and transformation agendas are increasingly set by business leaders.

The world has changed

With anything technology related, Tech leaders are accustomed to leading the show, and some are not amenable to business leaders engaging in conversations about subjects such as architecture and agile delivery that have previously been the sole province of Technology. But the days of the business defining their requirements and passing them over to Technology to build are long gone.

Digital is a shape shifter

As a digital leader, I have often been asked “what is digital?”. For a long time, this question was followed by “is it a channel or an enabler?” For some time my answer has been that digital is all of the things, but most of all it is a shape shifter. When you think you have it nicely categorised and you’ve mastered it, it shifts and takes on additional identities. We might once have been able to clearly articulate what it was, and have esoteric debates about which role it played. But now, debates of this nature are a waste of time unless they help build speed on the transformation journey.

Digital is filling all the roles and driving transformation across the entire organisation. And if that is not happening in your organisation, then you should take stock, and question why not? What are you missing? How is the behaviour of your customers changing? How have your staff expectations changed? How might technology transform your business model and reinvent your business?

So who should be in charge then?

Too often organisations approach this with a binary lens: should technology take the lead, or should the digital transformation leader take it? Wait! Shouldn’t technology be leading digital transformation? If we could harness the energy wasted on positioning and posturing about who should lead we could power the nation.

Readers of Sci Fi fantasy already know the answer: the only way to command a shape shifter is if you use all of the super powers. Now that digital has morphed into a shape shifter, the only leader with the power to tame it and design the organisation with digital at its core is the CEO. Who leads the transformation is irrelevant, as long as it is a team sport with the CEO as its champion.

Does the answer surprise you?

It shouldn’t. Because ultimately, successful transformation is about people. And even in a digital world, the only way any organisation succeeds over the long term, is through how all leaders (both the Board and management) work as a cohesive team to deliver outcomes that leverage the best of technology to add value to customers.