2020 Tech Trend: A new wave of digital business leaders

We are now undeniably in a digital world, where even if information technology is not your product or service, it will touch every part of the products and services that you provide. This means we need to adapt, and traditional organizations must better position themselves for the exciting digital changes that lie ahead.

Provider, partner, promoter, peer

For many years, we have seen IT departments exist as Providers to efficiently deliver the systems and capabilities that the firm requires, with emphasis on reliability, efficiency and compliance. They have also been Partners working like consultants to the firm, advising/directing the use of IT to support the business change agenda. The emphasis on application/process modernization and know-how is crucial for ongoing success.

In addition, we now need a new cadre of technology leaders acting as Promoters and serving as technology evangelists, advocating how new technologies can improve the firm’s speed, agility, productivity and innovation advantage. These leaders act as Peers, working at the CXO level to shape the digital strategy and value proposition of the firm, while engaging in major initiatives such as smart products, M&A, intellectual property development/protection and learning.

In 2020 we anticipate that this shift to digital business leadership will gain real momentum as technology driven-marketplaces — with new capabilities, business models and disruptive possibilities — proliferate and companies need to effectively respond to rapidly changing external developments. This is a different mission, requiring different skills and a different culture to emerge.

5 steps to digital business leadership

As we transform the organization, leaders need to come along too, not just at the executive level but also in the middle layers, where inertia is often cited as a key obstacle to change. Most organizations acknowledge that this shift is happening, but turning abstract agreement into solid action is challenging. This is where the next generation of business leaders can emerge. To do so they must:

  1. Build awareness – Scout the emerging technology scenes of Silicon Valley or China for trends and insights into the future.
  2. Be more open – Participate in open initiatives and share with partner organizations or the wider marketplace.
  3. Get access to R&D – Establish and maintain links to leading universities/academics or government agencies in relevant areas.
  4. Build partnerships and alliances – Pick the right partners to help on the journey, as most organizations can’t make the changes necessary alone.
  5. Push digital culture – Energize and engage employees and executives through immersive digital experiences such as hackathons, incubators and accelerators. Focus on multidisciplinary teams, experimentation and learning, and business outcomes.

We acknowledge that there are many reasons why this aspect of digital transformation is hard but now, more than ever, we must emphasize the value of becoming double-deep professionals — one of those leaders who not only has a deep understanding of their profession, industry or function, but who also embraces the technology that’s relevant to their role, as well as the required skills and learning that come with it. As these leaders come to the fore, we’ll see more tangible business value realized from the exciting emerging technology portfolio and organizational transformations will accelerate.

This post is a deeper dive into the fifth trend of our 2020 Technology Trends. DXC Technology’s CTO Dan Hushon discusses this trend in the video above. Check out all five trends at 2020 Technology Trends.

See the blog post on 2020 Technology Trend #1 | Trend #2 Trend #3 | Trend #4 


David Reid is program director for the Leading Edge Forum. While leading the research and operations of the group, he has driven insights into business and digital transformations with C-level leaders and is heavily involved in the delivery of advisory work and facilitation of LEF Study Tours. @lefdjr

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