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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.

Westerman says CIOs may never see a better chance to shape corporate strategy. But "if you don't," he adds, "you're going to be left out." The Altimeter survey found that CMOs constitute the biggest group credited with leading digital transformation. Asked what executives "champion and support" digital transformation within their companies, 54 percent of the respondents said the CMO, 42 percent said the CEO and just 29 percent chose CIO/CTO.

Voelker says it's not just the CIO who is in danger of irrelevance. Corporate success is also on the line. "I'm going to spend a ton of money making sure that everything we do is compelling on mobile devices. If we don't do that, I do think that we will fail."

Voelker points to the period in the early 1980s when banks built ATM networks. Those investments had to be made, but today there is no longer any competitive advantage to having the technology. It's gone from cutting edge to table stakes. "Nobody runs commercials saying, 'Hey, come to our bank — we have ATMs,'" he says.

Voelker argues CIOs are facing the same challenge with today's emerging technologies.

Competitive advantage will come in short spurts. The good news is that no one's too far behind, yet. Stephanie Woerner, a research scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research, says that in 2012, a global survey of 2,008 executives found that 59 percent of business processes were fully digitized. But those processes were "the easy ones," she says. What comes next will be more challenging.

It's one thing to see the digital enterprise coming. It's another to build it. Some companies will need to develop entire new technology infrastructures, especially as they expand into new markets and as new things become Internet-connected. There is no template that all companies must follow.

Here are five different visions of the digital enterprise.

1. A Great Experience, Online and Offline

Mobile phone carriers — on the front lines of the smartphone revolution but also dealing with physical networks, products and customer interactions — are under intense pressure to be digital, according to Thaddeus Arroyo, who was CIO at AT&T Services until he was recently promoted to president of a new technology development group. "I talk about the digital-physical blur," he says, referring to the way physical products are becoming digital services. For his company, being a digital enterprise means creating a consistent experience across its digital and physical channels. To get there, Arroyo says he must weave a "digital golden thread that seamlessly extends through the enterprise."

Weaving that golden thread means putting the same kinds of customer information at all the places customers touch AT&T, as well as giving it business context. For example, in AT&T retail stores, sales representatives now carry mobile devices and stand next to customers instead of behind counters. Arroyo says those mobile devices must have up-to-date information on the customer, compiled from customer service updates, previous interactions in stores and even correspondence via social media. AT&T home technicians need a different view of the same information, and call center agents should have yet another slice of it.


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