Digital strategies are occurring… at the speed of dial-up

The adjective “digital” has become a Turrets’ tick of sorts in virtually every C-suite and LOB around the world – digital disruption, chief digital officer, digital leadership, digital innovation and of course “digital strategy.”

There is a dichotomy in the imagery of digital as ultra-high-speed 60 gigahertz technology while the organizational aspects are occurring at a pace reminiscent of the acoustic coupler. In fact the screaming and screeching of that acoustic connection isn’t lost on those tasked with developing central digital strategies in decentralized enterprises.

In the spirit of full disclosure, as a consultant, researcher and pundit I have been guilty of fueling this “paralysis by analysis” by encouraging organizations to ponder the political and skills implications of various org charts driven by digitally born-again CEOs and CIOs.

But as the executive suite is thinking about digital disruption, the businesses (increasingly comprised of digital natives) are actually doing it. Many business units already have a more mature digital strategy because they are typically closer to the customers who demand it. As I mentioned in a previous piece, disruption and innovation are much more likely to happen on this periphery.

History tells me that these decentralized digital strategies are not readily evident to HQ because they tend to be classified as “need to know” by distrusting business units.

This is one of my gripes with many of the oh-so-trendy C-suite Chief Digital Officers.

The mortality rate of this new position can be very high because the businesses immediately move into an “omerta mode” that would make a Sicilian jealous. The CDO is organizationally asphyxiated and quickly becomes overhead having driven nothing but people crazy.

In my recent engagements with CEOs, CIOs and CMOs it is clear that the most effective digital strategies are hinged on trust between the center and the businesses. If your fancy new Chief Digital Officer is perceived as an organizational TSA that results in long waits, intrusive searches and false positives… don’t waste your time or budget.

If on the other hand you truly want an agile, resilient, fail-fast digital strategy, then empower and reward the businesses for disruption at the periphery. Anoint a corporate “digital czar” at your own peril unless you are 100% sure that they can establish trust at fiber optic speed. Even then be sure that any position that resembles a Chief Digital Officer is viewed not as a hunter, but primarily as a gatherer and aggregator of digital best practices.

I personally think this can be done using existing human and social enterprise assets rather than by adding another high-risk C-title to the bureaucracy. But more on that in future blogs.

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