Three ways to balance culture, skills and tech in the new digital landscape

Tech has changed the way experiences and products are consumed – which means businesses have to change the way they deliver.

Think about it:  How do you explain business to kids nowadays?  Companies that have been around for decades are disappearing overnight, and startups with completely disruptive business models are bought and sold at the drop of a hat.

The industry is made up of large, established enterprises and new challengers entering the market with nothing to lose – and they each want what the other has:  a solid customer base, revenue and profit versus innovation, disruption and new talent.

It’s a whole new world out there, and we’re all judged against it. In recent weeks, I’ve visited customers in Brazil, Japan, North America and Singapore where I’ve seen firsthand that regardless of size, industry or offering, they’re all facing a similar problem – how to manage customer expectations while adapting to the fast-changing digital world.

CIOs who want to disrupt from within and show the world a new vision of the future are making it clear that those who don’t change won’t have a place in that future.  Using technology to create an environment for incremental change while balancing innovation and governance at all levels of the organization isn’t easy.

This is especially true for traditional business models that are less agile and more likely to fall back on the excuse of “this is how we’ve always done it” when challenged.

In today’s business environment, customers yield an unprecedented amount of power. They have more options as to how and where they spend money, and the ‘instant review’ culture that comes with the sharing economy means businesses must get it right first time or risk losing both revenue and reputation.

Companies who come out on top will be able to connect business, software and processes with customer needs to translate experiences into business value. This means balancing established industry experience with the new culture, skills, and tech required to compete in today’s business landscape.

Embracing the challenge

The advice I gave to my clients (and the advice I give to anyone who will listen) is that embracing digital transformation is the key to dealing with the changing needs and demands of their customers. It’s a balancing act between being true to your company’s history, utilizing institutional knowledge and embracing new people and innovations that will make a difference. This comes to fruition in three ways:

1) Culture: A company is defined by its employees and how they’re encouraged to operate. Legacy employees have experience and institutional knowledge. These are incredibly valuable resources, but they must be willing to adapt to innovation and new ways of working. On the other hand, new employees – especially the newer, more tech savvy generation – must be able to use their skills to move the company forward in a way that’s in line with leadership’s vision for the future. They have to be willing to add value and share what they know with their colleagues. Successful leadership will find a balance that works.

2) Business models:  We all know that business has changed. Companies that survive are the ones that adapt. In my experience the successful ones no longer put profit at the center of business operations, but have pivoted their business model to focus on the customer and the experience. If they get this right, then the impact on bottom line will follow.

3) Innovation: Digital transformation is a commitment, and it can’t be done selectively if you want to see results. This means embracing the innovations that make a difference to business operations and can progress the company’s future. This is cultural too. When you start by creating a culture that thrives on innovation, and work diligently to drive adoption for transformation, then those innovations are more likely to succeed, lead to better outcomes for customers, and ultimately drive business value.   

Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, there was a lot of talk about digital transformation; but the question wasn’t “what’s the next innovation?” It was “what skills are going to be valued the most?”

World and business leaders are recognizing that technology is rapidly changing business values and how organizations operate. More and more, companies are focusing on how they can adapt; how they can blend their legacy approach with the expectations of the market and more importantly, their customers.

I believe the ability to adapt new skills across the workforce and balance valuable resources who know the core business with those who lack institutional knowledge but have the tech and market skills that are in high demand– that’s going to be the MBA track of the future.

Adam is president, global field operations at CA Technologies where he leads a high-performance team…


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