Exploring the gap between strategy and execution for digital transformation

You can have as many strategic documents as you wish for digital transformation – but there is a world of difference between strategy and execution.

That is the key finding from a new research study by HCL Technologies, which found that while 70% of organisations have a formalised digital strategy, only 10% have an official deployment plan.

The report goes through various steps to remedy this gap, from focusing on customer experience, investing in ‘seed technologies’ instead of having the blinkers on the wide-ranging buzzwords of ‘we need to do cloud’ or ‘we need to do IoT’.

But what is causing this reticence? Anand Birje is head of digital and analytics at HCL Technologies. He argues the landscape has changed from ‘proof of concept digital’ to becoming ‘mainstream digital’ – with bumps in the road during that process.

“It’s really a culture shift – it’s not a project or program, but an ongoing journey,” he tells Enterprise CIO. “That switch is where mainstream digital is happening, and in mainstream digital people are realising you can’t actually claim digital success. You’ve got to make certain changes in the way business, IT and technology adapts itself and works with itself.”

In other words, just having siloed digital initiatives is not going to cut it. Take the rise of the CDO (chief digital officer) job role as an example. Should the digital charge be led by the CIO or the CMO? The CDO role arguably gained prominence almost as a hybrid of the two. According to a recent report from Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business, the majority of CDOs have a ‘strong technology background’, although the need for a marketing background is less high on the agenda.

However, if you have the CIO, CMO and CDO all working to different beats on non-linear programs, then the result will not be greater than the sum of its parts. Birje notes that in some cases the roles swap over again; some CDOs are becoming CIOs and vice versa. He adds that one insurance provider “hit the reset button” last year, moving away from proof of concept digital in the process. “I think it’s falling in place, at least in the larger organisations that have been on this journey for the last three, four or five years,” says Birje.

It’s not only roles that are converging; in some instances, it’s different industries. The report assesses the priorities and technological use cases of a variety of verticals, from energy, to finance, to retail. Working with these clients, HCL has noticed similarities. “It’s funny,” says Birje, “more and more I hear the CIOs and CDOs telling me ‘don’t tell us what you’re doing in our industry, tell us what you’re doing in industries outside!’

“The technology patterns – we call it digital technology foundations, or DTFs, the set of technologies involved, the cultural patterns, the processes in how business, IT and technology need to interact, how you source technology and how you deploy it… a lot of these are becoming common patterns.

“We do think that enterprises need to look outside of their industries,” adds Birje.

When it came to the technologies different industries were using, patterns were relatively similar. Cloud computing, big data analytics, mobile and IoT were all frequently used, yet APIs, microservices, and low code applications less so. The one outlier was energy, oil and gas and utilities; 68% of respondents in those industries said they used APIs, compared to only 25%, for instance, in manufacturing.

Yet it is these latter technologies which HCL calls ‘seed’ technologies – the building blocks which can enable wider transformation. “Everybody gets zoned in on the more obvious phenomena of cloud and IoT, and security, which are obviously important and they are the core drivers of digital transformation because those technologies enable speed and easy consumption and scalability,” says Birje, “but I think what people don’t realise often is, to really leverage cloud, IoT, security in a new way, your enterprise today currently has the topologies of the traditional world, so your IT and processes are currently running on monolithic and traditional apps.

“How can you create a bridge between those two worlds? That’s why APIs and microservices are becoming important,” Birje adds. “Their relevance has increased today – those enterprises that are recognising the relevance are actually making faster progress.”

It’s no wonder that the report, which you can access here, is titled ‘Bringing Digital to Life: Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Execution’.


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