I’ve recently come across a couple of interesting pieces of content. One very good in italian by Gianluigi Zarantonello, WW Director of Digital Solutions @ Valentino, on his blog here and a very technical podcast by Gartner about the subject so decided to deep-dive into it. The starting point is the following: Technology work, which was once the sole responsibility of dedicated IT teams, is now being “democratized.”
A dramatic growth in hyper-automation along with the rise of low-code tools, SaaS solutions and cloud computing facilitated the transition of digital tasks to less tech-savvy business areas.
Many companies are now revisiting the boundaries between their IT and non-IT departments and reassessing the way they delegate tech responsibilities.
Acknowledging this means putting the responsibility, tools and accountability for building digital capabilities in the hands of business units so they can successfully and swiftly overcome the challenges thrown by digital competitors and untimely industry disruptions.
It’s a big change in ways of working. It’s a big change in operating model, but it’s a very important driver of organizational performance.
THE EMERGING CRAVE FOR INNOVATION
While the need to speed up digital delivery is well grounded in notably future-looking departments like Marketing and E-commerce, the recent pandemic has definitely increased the need for innovative solutions and accelerated the digital transformation process of areas that have always been less driven by technology – think of how Virtual Showrooms have impacted Wholesale, Merchandising and Operations in the fashion industry.
In such a scenario it becomes almost inevitable that business functions take charge of gathering insights/requirements and proactively look out for solutions/partners to solve the newly risen challenges. Unfortunately most of the times resources are overwhelmed by operativity and lack the necessary headspace to productively seek, manage and deploy new solutions. The Innovation and Digital Transformation (IDT) function is intended to fill that gap, promoting change, collecting challenges/insights and sponsoring new ideas in close collaboration with other business functions
THE RISE OF BUSINESS TECHNOLOGISTS: INNOVATION AND DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION FUNCTION
The Innovation and Digital Transformation function (IDT) takes charge of digital delivery, promotes significant positive change and integration across the business.
It encourages cultural-shifts and the adoption of digital solutions functional to the review of outdated processes or the creation of brand-new ones that recode industrial operations to meet the evolving business and market needs imposed by the multi-versed digital age.
ISN’T THIS BASICALLY A FORM OF “SHADOW IT”?
Shadow IT refers to business units that circumvent IT’s infrastructure and go their own way. The IDT function, on the other hand, works on things that have high visibility and actively collaborate with IT departments. Regular PPPs (Progress Plans Problems) are set between the two functions to brainstorm, coordinate and update each others on running activities and ideas.
KEY RESPONSIBILITIES OF IDTs
The Innovation and Digital Transformation function (IDT) is responsible for:
•Directly manage the setup and execution of digital transformation projects
•Promoting integration between business functions and across the business or supply chain
•Defining new strategies to deliver meaningful experiences to its main audiences
•Network start-ups and actively connect the business with the most interesting solutions on the market
•Strengthen the collaboration with corporate teams by networking and taking part in cross-functional round tables
•Promote a digital-first mindset and act as source of inspiration for his/her colleagues
THE WHOLE BUSINESS IS INVOLVED IN A NEW APPROACH TO FACILITATE INNOVATION
While I have largely covered what it takes to innovate in one of my previous articles, I now want to focus on what the business can do to facilitate the process.
With the birth of the new IDT function, there is a significant evolution in the way other executive functions operate and relate to it. Some examples include:
• C-suite and General Managers of business units are required to embrace the idea of making IDT part of fusion teams (multidisciplinary teams that blend technology and other types of domain expertise)
• Corporate functions that historically focus on bureaucratic control are required to get comfortable transferring knowledge, digital accountability and partnering with IDT
• Procurement needs to help IDT connect with innovative vendors rather than just seek economies of scale
• HR, which traditionally focuses on role clarity, is required to attract like-minded resources, promote role flexibility and integration
• IT and Information security, which traditionally enforces checkpoint-based compliance with security, is required to train and help IDT work autonomously and with the right judgment. The visibility of cybersecurity threats and data breaches puts a tremendous amount of pressure on those executives to ensure that they’re keeping enterprise information assets secure. But the most effective way to do that is by ensuring that security is viewed as everybody’s job, not just the job of the information security function
CIOs BECOME ORCHESTRATORS
Part of the role of the CIOs today is helping other executive functions be more comfortable taking on the reins of their own technology. Even though the IDT doesn’t always report into the CIO functionally, CIOs now have the added responsibility of equipping and empowering the Innovation and Digital Transformation (IDT) function to seek and build priority-specific digital capabilities. The modern CIO is liberated of operational tasks and is orchestrating the work of IDT and other business technologists within and beyond IT, shouldering accountability with other business leaders for technology and business outcomes.
One of the things that has happened during the pandemic is that more and more companies have come to the realization that there are parts of their business that need to behave more like software companies, either to serve customers digitally, to manage digital channels or to offer digital products or more integrated cross-channel experiences. And they’re coming around to the realization that the way to do that well is to democratize digital delivery to empower business technologists and the IDT that are closest to the customer, closest to the operations, closest to the product to build and run their digital capabilities. They can’t do this without the CIO and IT, but the CIO and IT can also not cover everything by themselves.