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Top CIOs start the journey to the 'digital enterprise'

Michael Fitzgerald | Oct. 29, 2014
The buzzphrase 'digital enterprise' can be a bit mushy. What does it really mean? And how do you get there? Here are five emerging models.

 Back in 1980, the woman who now runs the data center at State Street Bank started her career there by pricing a mutual fund in a ledger book. That process would get automated as the bank became a computerized enterprise. Today, she can connect State Street's systems with those of customers and partners and produce sophisticated reports to let customers analyze the mutual funds they might buy. That's the digital enterprise.

"In the old days, like last week, you built systems in functional towers, based on what process you need to automate and what function you need to do for the business," says State Street CIO Chris Perretta, reflecting on his colleague's experience. But that's not the case in the digital enterprise. That demands a company whose business rules and policies are completely digital, where people's jobs are represented in digital fashion and, most importantly, a technology ecosystem that takes the company's information and makes it both secure and, for those with the right access, easy to find and share.

"It's more a philosophy of how work is going to get done," Perretta says.

Achieving this new vision is a huge thing for State Street. Perretta has spent the past three years on a transformation project to translate that philosophy into a technology foundation that will let the financial services company share information effectively with customers. As we're talking, Perretta's screensaver flashes one of the banks' four key strategic goals: "Digital Enterprise."

The digital enterprise is more than just a CIO catchphrase. In a recent Altimeter Group survey, 88 percent of 59 digital strategy executives interviewed said their organizations are undergoing formal digital transformation efforts this year. Even CIOs who think the phrase "digital enterprise" is mushy, like Mojgan Lefebvre, CIO of Liberty Mutual Global Specialty, say that consumers wielding smartphones have shifted the balance of power. "The one thing that comes in and absolutely disrupts industries is giving the end-user customer, consumers, the ability to do anything and everything they want on their mobile device," Lefebvre says.

[See Sidebar: Digital Transformation Starts With the CEO ]

CIOs interviewed for this story say the digital enterprise signifies an epic change in the way work happens. "The employee of the future is going to be different than the employee of the past," predicts Perretta.

For one thing, tomorrow's employees will have immediate access to much more information. The digital enterprise revolves around making information mobile. Workers will use mobile devices, either smartphones or tablets. They'll connect, via the cloud, not just to company data but to data from customers, suppliers and relevant outside sources, including social media and Internet-connected objects. They'll apply fancy analytics techniques to make better business decisions.


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