Jim MacLennan, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at IDEX Corp., explained why IT is key to implementing the five components of a great digital business.
“A digital business will only succeed when it understands how to connect with people,” stated MacLennan at the outset of his keynote presentation at the 2019 CIO Leadership Deep Dive: Digital Transformation Starts with People, which was held on March 12 in Seattle. “For the past five years or so, I’ve been presenting and writing about the five components of a great digital business that help you understand it, define it, and build an attack plan. The first three of these components are systems and processes designed to automate internal operations, connecting with our customers, and the information that’s becoming part of the products and services we sell. The fourth component of a digital business is the data that’s being generated in all these silos and the integration required to get value out of that—but, more importantly, it’s the skills required to get information out of that data. The fifth component of a great digital business is one that people don’t usually expect—your team, the people inside your company that work with these internal processes that connect with your customers and develop, build, and support the products and services you sell,” he explained.
“Today I’m going to talk about how IT can not only participate in digital transformation but actually lead it and drive it to success. When you talk about the team inside a digital business, you’re talking primarily about skills, development, training, and recruiting, but also collaboration and communication inside the company,” MacLennan noted.
“The first component of your digital business is systems for internal operations. More often than not, the big behemoth is the ERP system. Waterfall project-management methodology is what most IT departments are good at and use for many of their projects, but it can be frustrating for other functional areas of the company. They want something more fluid and agile. It really doesn’t matter what project-management methodology you use, because all good project-management methodologies follow the same basic pattern and have the same basic set of components,” he observed.
“The number-one objective of project management is to manage the stakeholders’ expectations and to communicate what’s going on to all those different stakeholders. There’s the component of ‘plan the work, and work the plan.’ Understand what resources you need to complete the tasks in the time allowed. In most companies, IT has the most experience and expertise in these skills. One simple idea you can take back to your company this week as you try to help them through their digital transformation is ‘communicate.’ Communicate complexity and communicate in a structured way across all these different areas of the company so you keep everybody in sync as these big changes are happening,” said MacLennan.
“The next component is connecting with customers via systems and processes like the Web, Internet, smart phones, and all the cool technology. Design thinking involves really understanding how people use processes or information and making these as accessible as possible. What you hear from product marketing—the folks who are connecting with the customers—is, ‘Help me get that voice of the customer.’ In response to this, the one simple idea you can bring back to your company is, ‘Listen.’ Listen to what your internal partners are asking for, and give them what they need,” he said.
“When it comes to products, keep your development ideas simple, move forward in small bites, be ready to pivot, and help the product-development folks understand how to apply lessons from the IT world to their product-development world,” advised MacLennan.
“Another idea you can bring back to your companies about how IT can transform your business is, ‘Run to the magic,’ so be the ones inside your company that know how the magic works,” he said.
“There are a lot of topics around team, but I want to talk about collaboration. We have to change the way we communicate so our meaning can be understood if we’re not in the room. Inside the IT team at IDEX, we built something we called the ‘communities of practice’ to demonstrate, by example, what it means to collaborate. We wanted to visualize it, so we used a social graph. On this graph, dots represent individuals, and lines between the dots represent connections. The more connections an individual has, the larger the representative dot. If you know how to read a social graph, you can get a lot of interesting information—such as who’s connecting with who in what functional areas of the company,” observed MacLennan.
“So, the last simple idea I want to leave you with is, ‘collaborate.’ It’s not just a nice word. It’s a different set of behaviors—ways to capture and share information. It’s a set of skills you have to develop to have the opportunity to be the ones to walk the walk and lead the rest of the company.”