This week I had the privilege of participating in The Hackett Group’s North American Best Practice Conference on “Unlocking Digital Value.” While the digital theme is not unique, the attending population was – a cross-functional mix of leaders from corporate finance, procurement, human resources, global business services, operations and IT, who sat together in Atlanta and shared how they are moving their businesses forward. Brands and industries represented at the podium included Pfizer, Cargill, NCR, General Motors, Mary Kay, ThermoFisher Scientific, Citi, HP, IBM, MGM Resorts, McDonalds and WestRock. What emerged was nine digital transformation truths that united them despite their diverse business functions and industries:
- The so-called back-office is driving front-line innovation. The business services team at a global manufacturer introduced the use of drones to demonstrate to regulators that its facilities are in compliance. The corporate finance chief of a utility innovated forecasting through application of Monte Carlo simulations and artificial intelligence for predictive modeling. The IT team at a healthcare company helped monetize patient data by creating a real-time patient monitoring tool for physicians. The innovation not only generates subscription revenue, it also boosted sales of one of the company’s core products.
- The digital morphing of business functions is largely self-funded. The big investments in new tools and skills are being offset by major streamlining of processes, infrastructure and operating costs. One CIO termed this streamlining “mass simplification.”
- Everyone is fighting a talent war. One speaker told how her only robotic software programmer immediately received a dozen job offers after programming his first robot for the firm. A speaker from the local area admonished her fellow Atlantans not to poach her digital interns.
- Universities can help. Many have turned to local universities for innovative ideas, young talent and symbiotic relationships in which the companies share their needs and provide curriculum direction.
- HR, finance and the others depend on the support of their IT organizations. While marketing and sales may still believe they can get digital done without involving IT, that myth is largely busted among the other corporate. There were as many HR and finance leaders in our CIO panel session as there were IT practitioners. Their questions tended toward how the CIOs partnered with their fellow execs to enable change.
- Customers eat cultural resistance for lunch. Leaders are successfully using the end customer as the rationale and mandate for culture change, and staff and managers are lining up (mostly) behind that banner.
- Everyone needs to be more agile. The exemplars of digital innovation shared from the conference stage were all delivered (though not necessarily completed) in under 90 days.
- No one is done. While some companies are as much as six years into their digital transformation, and others are in year one, it is a work in progress for all.
- There is passion and positivity where there was previously fear and anxiety. In recent Hackett events, I’m told there was a sense among the audience of being overwhelmed by the onslaught of digital. But this time there was a positive attitude in the audience and what I can honestly describe as earnest, personally invested passion from the leaders who took the podium. That’s both refreshing and reassuring. I hope the same attitude prevails at Hackett’s European Best Practices event this coming October, where we’ll continue to explore this theme.