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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.

"What's new about the digital enterprise is the emergence of all these new technologies coming together at the same time," says George Westerman, a research scientist at MIT's Initiative on the Digital Economy and co-author of a recently published book titled Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation.

"There's a huge role for computers to help people do a better job of what they're doing," he adds.

It isn't that past technology investments will be junked — Westerman says they form the backbone of the digital enterprise. But that backbone is being levitated by new technologies.

By the way, more tech is coming, and fast.

"There's been a change in momentum" of technology development, says Ray Voelker, CIO at Progressive Insurance. Voelker traces this to the spread of the smartphone since 2008. He says Progressive was "100 percent" a digital enterprise in 2008, based on the Web technology available at the time; all work flows and interactions, be they with insurance agents, partners or customers, were done digitally. "But that was before everybody was carrying around HD video recorders in their pocket that could be used for claims resolution, for example," he says.

It's a sign that the digital enterprise is a moving target. Now, Voelker says he can't say what the digital enterprise will look like in five years. "I don't know where wearables are going to go, where the Internet of Things will go, how the technology onboard vehicles . . . comes together," says Voelker.

The rise of a digitally savvy populace that expects more from companies has also increased pressure on companies to build the digital enterprise.

The eruption of new technologies has brought with it shifts in how technology gets managed, with some chief marketing officers controlling big technology budgets. "The pace of change in marketing is running at a faster clip than CIOs have been able to keep up with," says Michael Sutcliff, group chief executive at Accenture Digital, a consulting unit formed in 2013 to respond to the growing interest in digital business. But Sutcliff says CMOs would like it if IT were in sync with the pace of technology change in marketing.

Seize the Moment or Risk Being Left Out

The good news for CIOs in all this change is that they now may have once-in-a-career opportunities. Westerman cites the emergence of the CIO-plus, where the CIO runs IT, shared services, e-commerce and other digital efforts. "What we find with digital transformation work is that it's not really a technology problem, it's a leadership problem," says Westerman.

Digital leadership turns out to be about technology vision, governance savvy and knowing your IT platforms, he says. "These are all things IT people know how to do and can help the rest of the organization learn."


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