They say that no-one ever put up a statue to a committee. That’s rather unfair on the groups of people who achieved great things together. Nevertheless, there’s truth in the saying that every successful project needs a leader; a champion who, through their vision and influential personality, drives the initiative on to success.
It’s exactly the same with digital transformation projects. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced analytics and 3D printing are changing almost every aspect of operations and forcing businesses to reappraise their strategy. To do this effectively, though, every business needs a leader – and that’s exactly what most of them lack.
This autumn, KCOM conducted in-depth research across multiple industries to establish organisation’s progress towards cloud migration, and how prepared they are to take advantage of the transformational capabilities that cloud promises.
We found a worrying lack of leadership – or, rather, confusion about who should be taking the reins of digital transformation. For example, the majority of our respondents (56%) believe that it’s the Chief Innovation Officer who is most responsible for innovation.
Yet following close behind are the senior management team, which 54% believe is responsible for innovation, a dedicated innovation team (also 54%), and the CTO or the IT department (44%). By comparison, just 30% said that innovation is expected at every level.
There is nothing wrong with any of these people or teams taking charge of innovation – as long as they have the knowledge, the experience and the drive to lead the business down the path of progress. A Chief Innovation Officer combines these qualities, being familiar with the latest technologies and agile methodologies for implementing them effectively, while also have the time and the authority necessary to put their plans into effect.
Often it’s the CEO who’s responsible for carrying through these vital strategic projects. Yet our research suggests that this is the wrong person in the organisation. Over half (52%) of our respondents said that they do not believe their CEO is proficient at delivering change, while almost a quarter (21%) view their CEO as incapable of it.
This might seem like a massive vote of no confidence in the person leading the organisation, but our respondents’ seeming lack of faith shouldn’t be seen as pejorative towards CEOs. It might well be a problem of perception, with the CEO implementing innovation strategies and failing only to communicate them effectively to the rest of the business. It may, on the other hand, be that CEO cannot hope to devote the necessary time and energy to such complex projects.
If anything, the findings from our research reinforce the argument for putting projects into the hands of people with the time and the technical ability to successfully deliver them. This may well be a Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Data Officer. We should not be prescriptive about the specific job title – the important thing is that they have a wide-ranging remit, and that they are given the authority and resources they need. Meanwhile, whoever is responsible for these projects needs to exercise sound judgement and foster a sense of trust to create the environment for innovation to prosper.
However, there is another key characteristic of a successful digital transformation leader – bravery. While no-one believes that leaders should throw caution to the wind and charge head-first towards their goal, too much fear of failure can lead to projects that are unambitious and fail to deliver the full benefits available.
Our research found that, for the most part, the attitude of senior leadership towards failure is cautious but sensible - 46% embrace failure, as long as it is discovered early enough to avoid cost. However, roughly a quarter actively either discourage or encourage failure (28% and 26% respectively).
Every business will have a different attitude towards failure and the balance of risk and reward. In the public sector or financial services industry, for example, organisations are hardly likely to take risks with projects that will ultimately affect people’s health or their money. A certain amount of calculated risk-taking can, however, be critical when it comes to innovation.
What’s truly important is that organisations can clearly define both failure and success. Respondents expressed a wide range of views on this. The most popular definition was a project that costs more than originally budgeted, cited by 72%. This was more than twice the proportion who defined failure as a project that overruns its scheduled timeframe. Meanwhile, just under half (45%) define it as a failure to achieve the original designated outcome.
The key to a successful innovation or transformation is to have a dedicated leader who is both experienced and authoritative, and who sets clear objectives, effectively manages expectations and uses agile development processes. By focusing the project on smaller, more frequent updates, they will ensure that project progress becomes more visible, and they will be more likely to carry the rest of the company along with them – the secret of any great leader.
You can find out more about the research by downloading the full report here.