Executive need to listen

COLUMN | December 7, 2022 | 3 min read

CIOs should evolve, not transform

Successful digital transformations don’t end—they’re a stream of steady, continuous improvements

By Len Couture

  • CIOs too often think of digital transformation as a “one and done” proposition
  • Your systems should be designed for constant adaptation and change
  • Improving the human experience should be the yardstick for all successful digital technologies
Digital transformation isn’t something you try when times are good, then pull back on when things get tough. It’s a steady, controlled, ongoing process of adapting your digital infrastructure.

Ultimately, a true digital transformation is what enables you to deliver the improved employee and customer experiences that help you survive—and even thrive—in uncertain economic times.

More than 70% of “digital transformation” initiatives fail, according to McKinsey research. Despite the varied and complex technologies involved, these failures all share the same, relatively simple common denominator.

CIOs too often think of tech transformation as involving a single heavylift. Think of projects like installing a new CRM package, or moving workloads from local machines to the cloud. In fact, successful transformations are typically about racking up continuous, steady improvements.

As a CIO with two decades of experience in the IT world, I’ve found that companies too often see digital transformation as a quest for a single pot of gold. Instead they should focus on building better systems that can adapt to constant change. They should aim for evolution, not transformation. And they should always focus on improving the experiences of customers and employees. This is true everywhere in the economy, but here I’ll speak to three fields I know well: high-tech manufacturing, healthcare, and pro sports.

Companies should aim for evolution, not transformation. And they should always focus on improving the experiences of customers and employees.

I know a network equipment manufacturer that recently installed an expensive CRM system. The software itself worked flawlessly, but the company forgot about the “relationship” part of CRM, especially the connections between its own sales staff and the buyers at customer sites. These interactions have an emotional component that software can’t entirely replace.

For example, the company discovered that the software wasn’t flexible enough to handle the kinds of urgent requests—Hey, I need those routers in July, not October—that its human sales staff could easily accommodate. The company faced intense competition. Despite being known for top-tier products, it lost market share to firms with CRM systems that offered more flexible ways of working with customers.

Few sectors of the economy have invested more in IT than healthcare. Over the past decade, billions of dollars have been spent digitizing healthcare records. Here’s the catch: That infrastructure was built to accommodate the record-keeping needs of hospitals, not the health needs of patients.

Patients often visit new care centers when they move or travel, only to find that their records haven’t made the journey with them. These records need to be as mobile as the patient population has become, and not stay in their own siloed repositories.

Artificial intelligence can help problems like this. It can, for example, put together a palette of care by routing patients to the right specialists in the right locations. A patient with heart ailments could get a referral to a facility with the best coronary care, just as one suffering from lung ailments should be directed to a hospital with expertise in pulmonary medicine.

The goal of consistent personalized experiences is equally relevant to professional sports venues. Cloud-based systems can help sports franchises provide better service by mining customer data for simple insights about fan habits.

Did they buy beer at the start of the game? If so, have them ready for the next contest, even if it occurs at another venue. And make ticketing smart enough that fans can use their mobile devices to gain entrance, allowing groups of friends to meet at their seats rather than having to find each other in the crowds outside the venue at the start of the game.

In all these cases, the common denominator is the focus on bettering the human experience. Today’s workforce, increasingly dominated by digital natives, is increasingly intolerant of anything short of concierge-level attention and service.

Two very different generations of the Couture family mirror this transformation with their car purchases. My father was a happy Dodge customer who would visit his local dealer to arrange a trade-in when he was ready to buy a new one. My millennial son, on the other hand, buys his cars online and waits for them to be delivered to his driveway. Imagine the digital infrastructure needed to keep him happy.

The rickety systems of a bygone era don’t stand a chance. But neither do CIOs with modern technology if they aren’t focused on solving for human needs.

Want to Get Ahead and Stay There? Rethink IT Service Delivery.

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Len Couture is principal executive strategist at ServiceNow. He is an enterprise- and revenue-focused senior information technology and operations executive with more than 20 years of experience in global manufacturing and professional service industries.

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