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Who should drive your digital strategy?

Who should drive your digital strategy?

At the ITWeb 2016 Digital Economy Summit, hosted in Johannesburg on 11 October, prominent figures in the technology industry considered the question: 'who should drive a company's digital strategy'.

Greg Solomon, CEO, McDonalds South Africa believes there should not be a standalone strategy for digital transformation, but that it should rather form part of a company's overall strategy.

"There is no digital strategy - certainly in the Mcdonald's business. There is a company strategy and the digital lead has to find a place within the company strategy and at the boardroom table and in the c-suite, which are all instrumental. I think the strategy sits with the CEO and he or she has got to believe in it and with that said set the direction and he or she needs to be empower (the digital lead) because if that CEO is me and I know very little about it, I need to unlock the door," said Solomon.

Bruce Taylor, Group Technology Director: Group Information Services, Dimension Data shares Solomon's view of the CEO as a key role player even when a company has appointed a c-level executive in charge of its digital strategy. "It is the CEO that actually drives the change in the business model and really digitisation is looking at changing that business model. I think there is a lot of supporting actors that play across the sphere. I don't think there is one individual that will support the CEO with the digital strategy and driving digitalisation of their business model. I think there will be multiple areas involved like marketing, internal IT environments as well as operational environments etc. I think it is fundamental that there needs to be an accountable owner of the digitalisation inside the business and I think that is quite key. The CEO is accountable for the business overall, but there normally is an accountable owner in the business who takes operational execution accountability for the digitalisation of the business."

The view that the CEO should lead the charge also has the support of Maurizio Canton, CTO in EMEA at TIBCO Software, although he suggests that the CIO's duty is just as crucial when it comes to rolling out the digital strategy.

"My view, having worked with CIOs, CMOs and so forth, is that there is a split depending on where there is money in the organisation. You have much more money available to line of business so there are different people driving innovation and digitalisation. The CIO is a very important figure because he is the person that has the responsibility to create the platform for innovation in the line of business. I think it is both (the CIO and CEO) and you don't want a lot of people involved as you will create a lot of confusion. I think it is about the business putting the customer at the centre of the business strategy and trying to understand what the customer wants and taking it from there," said Canton.

Diverse approaches

Mophethe Moletsane, GM: digital commercial management, MTN Group offered a slightly different view and submitted that the nature of a business plays a key role in determining who is at the helm of digital transformation as different sectors will require diverse approaches.

He said, "I think we are in a more fortunate situation. There are two scenarios. There are cases where digital transform will unlock new business. Today MTN and other telcos are no longer selling airtime and a little bit of data as we did in the past. Now we are moving to a situation where there are new business streams altogether like gaming, video and the like, and in those type of environments putting the CDO to drive that agenda is much more easier and not as complex. In a scenario where the digital transformation is about optimising the business process, (then) that is more complex and may require the CIO, CMO and the like. I think the question is easier to answer in a telco environment and that is why you will see MTN appointing CDOs across different countries and that is because it is not as complex for us as it is in other business environments."

Len de Villiers, Group CIO at Telkom, added, "For it is not a single individual and that is the starting point. I think the leadership team of a company are all accountable for that journey. It is not something that you give to an individual you are accountable and you execute it because digital connects everything in a company to everything else. You cannot categorise it to a CMO, CIO or CEO etc. Where I've seen it best executed is when the whole team reporting to the CEO has signed up to it and it is part of the group strategic plan and executes at every level from the top to the bottom and from the front end to the back end."

Lee Naik, MD of Accenture Digital summed up the popular view on the panel by stating that if the CEO does not support digital transformation then it will not happen and the business will not see the desired outcomes.

The panelists all acknowledge the value of team effort in pursuing a digital plan in order to ensure growth on the back of digitalisation. The official selected to lead such a plan, as can be drawn from the perspectives above, plays within a bigger team and the nature of the business is an is an important factor to consider whern deciding on who leads digittal transformation.

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