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The IT Team’s Role in Digital Transformation

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Dom graham

Published on 19th September 2019

As an IT professional, it’s unlikely we need to explain what Digital Transformation is; after all, it has been a discussion topic for the last half-decade. 

In the past, technology-driven solutions, or the introduction of new tech into a tech stack, would have been the sole responsibility of the IT team. But times have changed; implementation teams comprise of people from different disciplines from across a business. 

With so much new technology being introduced, IT teams do not have the capacity to lead, manage and control every tech project. This means IT performs a more flexible role; that role can vary from being an observer to being the lead in the process, and everything in between. 

In the digital age, systems are no longer standalone tools designed to carry out a specific task. Each piece of tech is part of a technological ecosystem designed to work seamlessly together to help companies achieve strategic goals.  

Understanding the Goals of Digital Transformation 

The team tasked with leading a digital transformation will shape the narrative and the results. This means it is vital for everyone involved to have a base understanding of what digital transformation is, and what their role is. 

As with any emerging technology and a new way of working, there will often be misconceptions and misunderstandings among the implementation team and the wider business. Digital Transformation is a term that often confused; it can be mistaken for the modernization of legacy systems, or the migration to the cloud. While these ‘digital optimizations’ are a great place to start, digital transformation is a far deeper subject. 

Digital transformation is driven by the simple desire to make work better for everyone, from employees to customers. A crucial part of digital transformation is understanding what technology can help a business achieve. 

DX teams need to think about what their company does and identify where are the gaps in the working process. This leads to understanding where tech, process, and people improvement opportunities can be inserted into your firm’s workflow. 

Digital transformation doesn’t always require a complex solution; simple changes and agile solutions can often be more impactful than looking for a big answer to a small problem.  

IT & Digital Transformation

As mentioned earlier, Digital transformation is more than providing a technological solution. A DX team requires the right combination of commercial savvy, technical knowledge, creativity, and leadership to be successful. 

Although IT may not always lead the digital transformation process, it does have a pivotal role in the process. IT will do a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ when it comes to delivering what the business needs.  

IT is uniquely positioned within any firm; not only does it understand the technological landscape and outlook for your industry, but it also has the knowledge and skills needed to deploy new tech. 

Gone are the days where IT was the technology kingmaker. As technology proliferates and moves from traditional structures, such as on-premise, to the cloud, IT has less control and decision-making power within a business. Digital transformation offers IT the chance to build stronger connections within the company, and influence strategy and purchasing decisions. 

A DX process enables IT to control better control problems like ‘Shadow IT’ and its inherent security problems. Digital transformation is a chance to understand what applications employees are using and review the most popular apps to firm-wide tech stacks. This allows IT to take firmer control of cloud tech without alienating users with heavy-handed policy. 

What’s IT’s Role in Digital Transformation?

Unlike tech projects of the past, digital transformation is not just the implementation of a new system; it’s a new means of working that can profoundly change the way things are done. An old argument concerning IT is that it’s siloed; it does not look at the needs of an organization in the same way as the rest of the business. Digital transformation is an opportunity for a reorientation of attitudes towards IT, the chance for every team to be aligned.

DX projects will be led and managed differently in each firm, and there is no right or wrong route. The role IT takes in digital transformation will depend on how the DX project set up: is it technology-led, or commercially-led? Dependent on the leadership and strategy, the IT team’s role could include:

  • Bystander: Part of the team, but primarily there to provide technical assistance and technological know-how. 
  • Influencer: Has a critical role to play in shaping the direction of the DX project and directly influences the decisions made. 
  • Leader: A DX project led by the CIO, CTO, CDO or Head of IT. Strategy and final purchasing decisions stop with the IT team. 

Regardless of DX team leadership, it is universally accepted that the most successful DX projects will always be multidisciplinary. Buy-in across the team and the business is vital, as is sponsorship from the top levels of company leadership.  

The Technology Team 

There is little doubt that experts from your team will provide the technological know-how in a DX project team. The skills needed will be dependent on the DX strategy, and what has been identified as needs and goals for the business. 

On top of general IT team members, the technology-focused part of the team could include specialists in:

  • Data management
  • IT architecture
  • IT infrastructure
  • Front end development 
  • Back end development. 

Digital Transformation & Repositioning the IT Team

Digital transformation offers the IT team an opportunity to reposition itself in a firm. Rather than mandating tech that might not necessarily work for the whole business, IT can look at offering the organization a ‘managed services’ option. This could mean offering tailored solutions to internal teams or allowing teams the flexibility to choose the tech that’s right for their needs. IT will still retain oversight, and the ability to veto anything that’s not working, but also the opportunity to assimilate high performing tech into the company stack.

Cross-team collaboration is becoming an essential tool for all departments in the modern working environment. With demands on IT team resources increasing, being able to scale a project team up and down by collaborating with other departments offers a more agile approach. 

Regular cross-team working also allows IT to analyze tech usage and action changes based upon feedback. 

Digital Transformation Team Composition

A successful DX team will include talent from across the business, with each individual bringing a specific set of skills to the team. As every company has different needs, goals, and strategy for digital transformation, there is no exact team composition for DX success. 

Some firms will have more in-depth requirements than others, so may require a much more comprehensive team. Smaller businesses may not have the scope or need for a larger team, so some team members may fulfill more than one role on the team.  

Typically a DX team will need a blend of creativity, strategy, technical know-how, and customer support. It might comprise of expertise in the following areas: 

Leadership

In most circumstances, a C level executive will be the figurehead for a digital transformation. The DX leader will sit at the centre of a venn diagram of commercial acumen, technical knowledge and strategic vision. The CEO is a common choice for leadership of a digital transformation, but the CIO or CTO, if your firm has one, is often seen as a natural choice.  

Technological

As we discussed earlier, this segment of the DX team draws from the skills available within the IT team. Its composition is dependent on what your firm has identified as its digital transformation needs. 

Business Development

Digital transformation is a customer-first change, with the resulting transformation being a fundamental change in how a business delivers value to its customers. This added customer value makes the client-facing business a principal beneficiary of digital transformation. The team must have individuals representing the needs of customer experience, operations, product development, sales, and account management. 

Marketing & Creative

Marketing is a commercially focused team that uses digital technology in its workflow and will be keen to be involved in all aspects of the digital transformation process. Marketing can also have significant skills overlap with other teams, most notably IT and business development. As well as general team members, modern marketing teams have specialists skillsets available: data analysis, UX/UI, web design, graphic design, customer database management, and other skills that facilitate commercial effectiveness. 

HR

With a strong focus on people, the involvement of HR representatives in the digital transformation process is almost essential. Digital transformation will bring rapid cultural change; HR will form a critical role in bridging the gap between new technology, strategy, and a firm’s most valuable asset – people. HR will be at the forefront of helping people adapt to DX (for example, through training and development), playing a substantial supporting role in the firm’s digital transformation strategy.

Legal

While a legal team might not be full-time members of a digital transformation team, their guidance is undoubtedly critical to the success of a DX process. 

Find out more about digital transformation teams in our blog ‘Digital Transformation: People & Teams‘.